Tag Archives: Seva Ostapov

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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Moscow and Petersburg Rally in Defense of Maxim and Alexei

A few images and videos from yesterday’s rallies in Moscow and Petersburg in defense of Maxim Solopov and Alexei Gaskarov. The campaign to secure their release is still on: go here and here to find out what you can do to help.

This video from the Moscow demonstration features the event’s moderator, activist and journalist Vlad Tupikin, well-known civil rights activist Lev Ponomaryov, sociologist and activist Carine Clément, and sociologist and activist Boris Kagarlitsky. Clément talks about how both Maxim and Alexei are the kind of people whose work on behalf of various causes contributes to the building of “civil society” that the current Russian regime claims to be interested in building. Kagarlitsky argues that if the young men are not released, it will be a disgrace for all of Russia. They are being punished because their comrades had the “impudence” to tell the truth to the authorities, who are incapable of performing their jobs and taking responsibility for their actions.

This video, also from the Moscow rally, features Tupikin, who argues that the spontaneous demo outside the Khimki town hall on July 28 was a decisive factor in the subsequent backdown by the high Russian authorities (in the form of a temporary halt to the clear-cutting of the Khimki Forest pending a review of the route through it for a planned Moscow-Petersburg toll road.) After a fragment featuring Carine Clément, Alexei’s mother, Irina Gaskarova, talks about how there is no evidence that her son committed any crime, that the country’s pretrial detention facilities are overcrowded with people who are imprisoned for months on end, and that an investigator confessed to her that he and his colleagues know very well that her son and Maxim are innocent, but that the case is being curated from the very top of the Russian political hierarchy and there is nothing they can do. Irina Gaskarova is followed by Viktor Solopov, who also talks about how the police are fabricating the case against Maxim and Alexei. He also recounts how, when Maxim was summoned by the police for a “discussion” on July 29, he warned his son not to go to them because they cannot be trusted. This draws a round of applause from the crowd. He also talks about the police have been torturing and otherwise intimidating the young men’s comrades to obtain “testimony” against them. (We will have more details about this aspect of the case in a later post.) Mr. Solopov is followed by Seva Ostapov, another young Muscovite who was recently victimized by the Moscow police (and tried and convicted of a crime he didn’t commit.) He reiterates Solopov’s arguments about the untrustworthiness of the police: according to Ostapov, the words “police” and “lawlessness” have become synonyms in today’s Russia, while the words “court” and “justice” no longer have any connection between them. The video ends with Vlad Tupikin reading aloud a letter sent to the demonstrators by Vladimir Skopintsev, an antifascist activist now in forced exile in another country. At around 11 p.m. on September 2, persons unknown fired shots into the window of his family’s apartment in the Moscow suburb of Troitsk, barely missing the head of Skopintsev’s younger brother, Andrei. Instead of investigating the incident, police summoned to the scene of the crime took Andrei and his father to the local police station, where officers threatened to charge Andrei with extremism and began beating him up. The police released Andrei and his father only in the morning, confiscating Andrei’s passport in the process. (You can find more details of this strange but all too typical story here.) In his letter, Vladimir Skopintsev writes that his own experiences and Russia’s recent history have taught him that sooner or later anyone who comes into conflict with the “party line” will face repression. He closes by expressing the hope that one day he will be able to return to Russia and be reunited with the people at the rally.

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The image at the top of this post was taken by Moscow blogger and activist anatrrra. See their complete photo reportage of the Moscow rally here.

A bit earlier in the day, activists and concerned citizens gathered under a cold rain in Petersburg’s Chernyshevsky Garden to voice their support for Maxim and Alexei and demand their release. The photo below was taken by the ever-reliable Sergey Chernov. See his complete photo reportage of the Petersburg rally here.

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Seva Ostapov: Convicted of the Crime of Being Beaten by the Police

We have posted on the ridiculous case of Vsevolod “Seva” Ostapov on two previous occasions. Yesterday, February 17, the whole ugly story came to a (we hope, temporary) conclusion in a Moscow court. Below, you’ll find translations of some of the coverage in the non-state-controlled press. We begin, however, with a short video by Grani-TV.Ru filmed outside and inside the Moscow courthouse where Seva was handed a one-year suspended sentence for the crime of being savagely beaten by the police. Seva himself, his lawyer, his parents, and his defenders share their impressions of the trial before and after the sentencing. The video also includes brief footage of the judge reading out the verdict. (In Russian)

Vodpod videos no longer available.

www.grani.ru/Events/m.174892.html

The Preobrazhensky District Court in Moscow has sentenced Vsevolod Ostapov, a student at the Russian Peoples’ Friendship University (RUDN), to a one-year suspended sentence after finding him guilty of assaulting a police officer. Ostapov has announced that he will appeal the court’s decision, which “completely aped the version [of events advanced by police] investigators.”

On April 4, 2008, seven young men were severely beaten at the Sokolniki police precinct after they had been detained outside the Sokolniki metro station. Police used billy clubs and electric shockers while making the arrest, and the young men were likewise beaten at the police station. Among those beaten was RUDN student Vsevolod Ostapov. In August 2009 he was charged with assaulting a police officer. After the case was sent back to investigators four times for reinvestigation, it was sent to the Preobrazhensky District Court for trial.

The case against the police officers, which was reopened on June 28, 2008, was closed in the summer of 2009 for “lack of evidence.” Despite the testimony of medics, the young men who were beaten figured in the case only as witnesses, not as victims, and the police investigator was unable to establish the identities of the policemen who, allegedly, beat them.

On February 11, 2010, it was announced that the Directorate for Internal Security of the Moscow Chief Directorate for Internal Affairs [i.e., the police] had begun a new inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the beating of the young men at the Sokolniki precinct. On February 10, the victims were suddenly summoned to give testimony. According to [Ostapov’s] lawyer Yevgeny Chernousov, “This gives us hope that the new leadership of the Internal Affairs Directorate and the Directorate for Internal Security intend to clean out the Augean stables of lawlessness and impunity in Moscow.”

Earlier, Alexander Bastyrkin, chair of the Investigative Committee of the Prosecutor’s Office cancelled the official refusal to open a criminal investigation into the beating of the young men by officers at the Sokolniki police precinct. He not only ordered that the investigation be reopened, but also that those guilty of “multiple unfounded processual decisions” be subjected to disciplinary actions.

Mobile phone footage of police detaining Vsevolod Ostapov and his friends on April 4, 2008, outside the Sokolniki metro station in Moscow

www.svobodanews.ru/content/article/1960895.html

Journalists and civil rights activists have been following this widely publicized case. It all began on the evening of April 4, 2008, outside the Sokolniki metro station, when two beat cops approached 18-year-old Vsevolod Ostapov and attempted to arrest him for drinking beer. The young man felt that he had done nothing wrong and attempted to convince the policemen that he had not disturbed the peace. When his friends came to Ostapov’s defense, the policemen called in reinforcements. The young people were handcuffed, driven to the precinct, and beaten. They filed charges against the policemen, but in September of last year the criminal investigation was closed.

[…]

In an interview with Radio Svoboda, Ostapov again denied any wrongdoing on his own part.

“I think that this sentence is evidence of lawlessness on the part of the court. A court like this can only be called a kangaroo court: I was convicted of a crime I did not commit.”

Vsevolod Ostapov’s lawyer Yevgeny Chernousov has already announced that they will be appealing the sentence in the time prescribed by the law.

“We believe that today’s conviction of Vsevolod Ostapov, who has been sentenced by the court to a one-year suspended sentence and one year of probation, is illegal, baseless, and unjust. The court simply ignored the testimony of the defense witnesses: twenty or so people saw what happened on April 4, 2008, between the policemen and Vsevolod Ostapov outside the Sokolniki metro station. These witnesses confirmed that it was the police officers who initiated this conflict.”

According to specialists, the low level of the work of police investigators is evident. Sergei Zamoshkin, a lawyer and director of the Anti-Abuse Center, believes that the sentence and the crime with which Ostapov was charged lend support to the argument that he is innocent.

“Courts don’t give such light sentences for acts of violence against state officials. The relevant article of the [Criminal Code] stipulates a maximum five-year sentence. This gives us grounds to say that such an insignificant punishment is irrefutable proof of an absence of guilt on the part of the defendant. This is a quite traditional practice in our legal system when neither investigators nor the court find any evidence of guilt but don’t have the strength to admit this. But we need to understand that in and of itself our legal system allows the mistakes of investigators to be covered up in this way.”

Yevgeny Chernousov believes that the Vsevolod Ostapov case sets a dangerous precedent, especially in the context of recent crimes involving police officers.

“A dangerous precedent is set when even given such a large number of witnesses the court takes the side of two beat cops. What are the residents of Russia supposed to do in this situation? How are you supposed to go out on the street if a policeman can approach you and make unlawful demands, but there are no witnesses present?! This decision unties the hands of the police.”

www.ikd.ru/node/12539

Outraged by the unjust conviction of Vsevolod Ostapov, today, February 17, around seventy anarchists and other members of the Movement Against Police Lawlessness, carried out an unsanctioned protest action.

At around 7:10 p.m. the demonstrators began their march on Lubyanka Square, blocking traffic and chanting “Close Sokolniki Police Precinct”; “The People United Will Never Be Divided”; “Raise High the Black Flag, the State Is the Main Enemy”; “Say No to Police Lawlessness”, and other slogans. The demonstrators carried banners that read “No to Lawlessness,” “We Demand the Closure of Sokolniki Precinct,” and “Today It’s Seva, and Tomorrow?” They lit flares and tossed smoke grenades on the road in front of them.

Approximately ten minutes later the marchers descended into the metro and traveled to the site of the sad events of April 4, 2008. After exiting Sokolniki metro station, the marchers blocked Stromynka Street for several minutes. They added the chant “All Cops Are Yevsyukovs” to their cries. Soon, however, police cars began to surround them. Around fifteen people were taken into custody, including [three] journalists.

By 11:00 p.m. all the detainees had been released. All of them (except for the three journalists) were charged with a misdemeanor under Article 20.2 of the Administrative Code (violation of rules for picketing.)

On February 14, anarchists in Petersburg carried out a theatrical Shrovetide (Maslenitsa) performance in solidarity with Seva Ostapov. See Sergey Chernov’s complete photo reportage of the action here.

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Seva Ostapov Case to Go to Court

 

Seva Ostapov: Dangerous Russian Criminal?

Seva Ostapov: Dangerous Russian Criminal?

 [See our first post on this case.]

THE CASE OF SEVA OSTAPOV IS GOING TO COURT

tupikin.livejournal.com/431337.html

The website of the Institute for Collective Action (IKD) reports that Moscow student Vsevolod (“Seva”) Ostapov has been formally charged with assaulting police officers and that his case has been sent to the courts for trial. 

This is the case that grew out of the April 4, 2008, incident at the Sokolniki metro station. The police attacked a group of young people there, beating several of them in the process. Many of these same young people were detained and the beatings continued at the Sokolniki police station. In order to cover up their abuses, right from the beginning the police began to cook up a case against Seva, alleging that he had attacked police officers. Dozens of witnesses have testified that this was not the case, but in our country the powers that be know how to stitch together even such an unpromising case. So now the case has been sent to the Preobrazhensky District Court, which must now set a date for a preliminary hearing within the month. 

Moreover, the case against the policemen who tortured the young people, which was opened in 2008, was quietly sabotaged and closed in August 2009. Protests led investigators to reopen the case on September 14, 2009, but they extended the period of investigation for only one month. That month ran out yesterday [i.e., October 14], and once again we hear nothing about prosecuting the police officers for their crimes.

The Sokolniki case, which began as a brutal beating (cf. my first post on the topic, which was published in the early hours of April 5), inspired a powerful protest campaign. During that campaign, OMON riot police in Moscow dispersed a legally sanctioned picket against police abuse on April 11, 2008. A week later, young protesters carried out a totally unsanctioned march down Tverskaya (Moscow’s main street) from Pushkin Square to the Belorussia Station. (You can see photos of that march here and here; and videos here and here.) 

There were more actions in Moscow in May 2008, and then the wave of solidarity actions spread to other Russian cities. A year later, in summer 2009, when it became known that the authorities were going to try to send Seva to jail rather than the policemen who tortured him and his friends, the campaign in his defense began anew. A hunger strike and several theatrical protest actions took place, as well as a protest concert on September 26, 2009, in Chistye Prudy in Moscow.

Activists have created an omnibus site with all the information on the Sokolniki cases.

I imagine that in the very near future we can expect statements and actions from those who are strongly opposed to the falsifications in both Sokolniki cases.

For now Ostapov’s attorney Yevgeny Chernousov has made the following statement to IKD’s correspondent:

“We disagree with the prosecutor’s decision. Ostapov is not guilty. The prosecutor has ignored the fact that the record contains testimonies from 17 witnesses that show Ostapov’s innocence. Only two witnesses — beat cops — have given testimony that Ostapov committed an assault. A question arises: if the prosecutor has decided that the testimonies of these 17 people are false, then why isn’t he filing charges against them for giving knowingly false testimony? At the very first court hearing we intend to ask the court to make a ruling on whether such charges should be filed.”

According to IKD, Chernousov believes that the Ostapov case marks a precedent: from the very outset, the investigation took the side of police officers. This is an obvious breach of civil rights. The consequence of such cases is that citizens understand that the ‘policeman is always right’ and in any conflict they will prefer to solve the problem by offering a bribe. Which only reinforces corruption in the ranks of the law enforcement authorities.

During the investigation, Investigator Kobzar refused to show Vsevolod Ostapov and his attorney a video provided by the channel REN-TV despite the fact that they have the right to examine material evidence. In all likelihood, the video shows clearly what happened at the metro station. For some reason, this video was filed as evidence in the investigation of the beatings in the police precinct despite the fact that it is a record of the conflict near the entrance to the Sokolniki metro station. All these irregularities have led to the filing of numerous complaints.

Now the case is in the hands of the court system. The witnesses are ready to go to court and confirm their testimonies. These witnesses include not only young “informals” (Seva’s acquaintances), but also random passersby who stopped to look when they heard the screams of the young people as they were being beaten.

“If Ostapov is found guilty, that will signal that there is no hope that the situation with the law enforcement authorities will change,” says Chernousov. “A month has passed since the investigation into the case of the beatings of five young people at the Sokolniki police precinct was reopened, but no steps to investigate the case have been taken. It is obvious that an order has come down not to investigate the case.”

—Vlad Tupikin

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Solidarity with Seva Ostapov!

July 18 is a Global Action Day in support of Russian student Seva Ostapov!

No love is lost between the Russian population and the cops: facts of police terror are brought to light with disturbing frequency.

SevaslistomOn April 4, 2008, Moscow cops beat up and arrested seven young men near Sokolniki metro station in Moscow. The reason for this was the attempt made by these kids to prevent the illegal arrest of their 19-year old friend Vsevolod “Seva” Ostapov. Once at the police station (Sokolniki Precinct), the “law enforcers” decided to show the “smartasses” the error of their ways: for several hours, the cops viciously beat up and tortured our friends with tasers (electroshockers). As they did this, the cops made lots of chauvinistic and racist remarks. (It is common knowledge that many Russian cops are very supportive of neo-Nazi ideas.)

Moscow anarchists reacted with a campaign that succeeded in attracting public and media attention. The top police brass was forced to publicly comment on the issue. The cops decided to go on the offensive. They charged six of the young people with a minor offense—participation in a public brawl—a brilliant move to cover up the the wounds the cops inflicted on their bodies. The seventh young person involved, Seva Ostapov, has been charged with a felony—assaulting a police officer. Seva faces a long prison sentence (Article 318.1 of the Russian Federation Criminal Code stipulates a maximum five-year sentence) if convicted, although the CCTV records and numerous witnesses indicate that the charge is completely fabricated.

Each and every part of the state machine of repression has acted in concert in this case. Medical personnel at various hospitals refused to examine and document the injuries the detainees had suffered while in police custody. (The Russian healthcare system is subservient to the state.) The prosecutor’s office ignores eyewitness testimonies submitted by Seva’s friends, while fake “accidental witnesses of the assault on the police officers” have started to appear out of nowhere; by some quirk of fate, they turn out to be cops as well. As events unfold, the criminal case opened against the police department for the illegal arrest and torture of Seva and his friends has stalled in spite of the huge amounts of evidence. The prosecutor “loses” different documents regarding the case or sometimes he just “forgets” to make the next logical step in the investigation.  This is typical for Russia as well.

It is obvious that the state takes this issue very seriously: either Seva goes to prison and the torturers in police uniform are thus absolved of all charges, or the state admits that the ranks of its police officers—“sworn to serve and protect”—include numerous torturers and fascists.

seva0We ask you to support the Global Action Day of solidarity with Seva Ostapov on July 18. Carry out solidarity actions near the Russian embassy or consulate in your country (or any other Russian office if your town is lucky enough to have no Russian embassies in the vicinity)!

More information in English:
http://ru.indymedia.org/newswire/display/20329/index.php
http://avtonom.org/index.php?nid=1697

Contact:
antisokolniki@gmail.com

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