Convictions send message: Putin is back

A Moscow court has sentenced businessman Alexey Kozlov to five years in prison for fraud. The verdict is seen as a slap in the face to civil society, which demanded justice and freedom for Kozlov on the latest mass rally for fair elections in Moscow.

Alexey Kozlov was accused of stealing leather company shares using a fradulent scheme in 2006. He claimed he was innocent and his case was trumped-up by former business partner and senator Vladimir Slutsker. Slutsker denied the allegations.

Kozlov’s case was the second “economical” case to draw the widest response after the case of former YUKOS oil company head Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

Kozlov was arrested in 2008 and then sentenced to eight years in prison on fraud charges after having quit his business with Vladimir Slutsker. He spent three-and-a-half years in prison, until in September 2011 his wife — noted Russian journalist and human rights activist Olga Romanova — gained a Supreme Court order for the case to be retried.

This was celebrated as a victory of human rights activism. Romanova has become the voice of prisoners throughout Russia and created an NGO for relatives of businessmen whose cases were fabricated by their influential business partners and corrupted law enforcement authorities. For all of them Kozlov’s release in September became an example of how rights activism can be rewarded for its efforts.

Thousands of people supported Kozlov on a rally on 10 March. Hundreds of them gathered near the court — but only to shout “Shame!” when Kozlov was arrested and convoyed out of the court. The case was retried, but the corrupted judicial system remained.

Alexey Kozlov will be set free in a year and a half, after the court took into consideration three and a half years already served.

Olga Romanova was in charge of the recent Russian rallies against election fraud. She has been one of the most remarkable public critics of Vladimir Putin. Fellow human rights activists believe her husband’s sentence is also the authorities’ “punishment” to her for her activism and independence.  Activists added that this is clearly an attempt to silence her.

Romanova isn’t the only one authorities are trying to silence.

Another member of Pussy Riot punk feminist group Irina Lakhtionova has been arrested on the charge of hooliganism. She is suspected of being involved in an anti-Putin performance in Moscow’s Christ the Saviour Cathedral. As Pussy Riot’s lawyer Nikolay Polozov told Index on Censorship, this goes in the line with repressive politicy against political and civil activists. He is planning to file complaints to European Court of Human Rights.

Finally, on the same day Left Front movement leader Sergey Udaltsov was sentenced to ten days of administrative arrest for allegedly having neglected a policeman’s order after a rally on 10 March. He has announced a hunger strike in protest.

Another opposition leader, Alexey Navalny, was fined 1000 roubles (£21) for breaking the rules of holding rallies, during a mass protest against allegedly fradulent presidential elections on 5 March.

Earlier this week the court refused to release two arrested Pussy Riot members Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alekhina and activist Taisiya Osipova, from The Other Russia.

Most frequent bloggers’ believe these cases have one message – Vladimir Putin is back.


20,000 gather in Moscow to remind Putin of election fraud allegations

Thousands of people gathered on central Moscow street Novy Arbat on Sunday to call for Vladimir Putin to step down. The rally was a follow-up to mass protest rallies which started after allegedly fraudulent parliamentary elections in December.

It was much smaller than the protests leading up to the election, and the mood was dramatically altered.

This time, people had to face the reality that the right to freedom could not be achieved in just three months and that the opposition’s most popular slogan “Russia without Putin” cannot be actualised without a clear political strategy. Some opposition leaders, who have been courageously protesting against Putin must now re-evaluate their strategies. At the protest, TV host Ksenia Sobchak stood on stage and said that protesters needed to “form a concrete list of what they are standing up for”. “This road is long, but Russia will be free in the end”, said Grigory Yavlinsky, Yabloko party founder and unregistered presidential candidate, reflecting the principal current message of Russian opposition: it takes time for the civil society to restore their violated rights.

One of Russia’s leading independent political scientists, Dmitry Oreshkin, monitored the elections on 4 March. Together with other independent elections monitors, he announced the presidential election results based on their independent calculations. Oreshkin claims Putin did not win the elections in Moscow and Saint-Petersburg (in these cities he got less than 50 per cent needed to win in the first round, independent monitors counted). This marks a tendency, which is likely to spread over Russia, Oreshkin said to protesters: if big cities citizens don’t vote for Putin today, smaller cities won’t vote for him either tomorrow.

Left Front leader Sergey Udaltsov tried to march to Pushkin Square with his supporters after the rally. Hundreds of Moscow nationalists tried to do the same on Stary Arbat avenue. Protesters from both groups were arrested “for breaking the law on rallies”. Opposition in Saint-Petersburg also tried to march in the city centre, but police hadn’t sanctioned the action, and 40 protesters were arrested.

Monitors’ reports and plans to form a detailed political strategy were the two major topics of the rally on the 10 March. The third was dedicated to political prisoners in Russia, particularly two members of the punk feminist group “Pussy Riot”, Nadezhda Tolokonnikkova and Maria Alekhina, who were arrested after their act of protest in a cathedral, and Alexey Kozlov, the husband of human rights activist and one of the rally’s organisers  Olga Romanova.

Many of the participants in the rally planned to attend the court hearings on Kozlov and Pussy Riot. Those who protest against Vladimir Putin and demand political reform are amongst those who also call for profound reform of the judicial system.

Moscow prison whistleblower under pressure

Senior lieutenant Alexey Kozlov, responsible for educational work at Butyrka pre-trial prison in Moscow, has virtually lost his job after having publically criticised the penitentiary system. He has appealed to rights activists and journalists whistleblowing on prisoners’ rights abuse.

Butyrka pre-trial prison (the accused are kept there at the time of criminal proceedings) became notorious when Hermitage Capital lawyer Sergey Magnitsky died after spending almost half a year there in conditions rights activists later called torturous. Kozlov came to Butyrka soon after Magnitsky died and eyewitnessed violations which, in his perspective, could lead to similar tragedies. Alexey Kozlov told Index about his concerns and consequences of his whistleblowing.

–        ­Why have you decided to work in the Russian penitentiary system and particularly Butyrka prison?

–        I wanted to become a general one day; I found it romantic. I’ve been in the system for eight years: I worked in Moscow pre-trial prison Medvedkovo and in the convoy department. In February 2010 I came to work in Butyrka. I’ve been doing my job in line with the law and did everything to enhance its prestige.

–        What made you criticise the system you worked in?

–        I’ve been a witness of double standards towards prisoners. Some get everything, some are unfairly oppressed. Here’s how it works. Prison staff are supposed to convoy inmates to working places – prison premises repairs, for example. Normally they don’t do this because the prison is simply out of staff. Prisoners are unofficially told to go to their working places on their own, having to unlock the doors with handmade passkeys. If they follow the rules and don’t go alone, they may get punishment for not arriving to their working place. If they do go, they may get punishments for going alone. A prisoner is put in a position when he can have penalties imposed on him either way. This triggers corruption.

I’ve also never seen a prisoner who spent a day in court be brought to shower, although this is staff duty.

And I am  concerned about medical care in prisons. One of the inmates, HIV-positive, told me he hasn’t received proper medical care for three months. He ended up having high fever and pneumonia. Only then was he delivered to hospital. I’ve also seen that when a prisoner gets sick and acute care arrives, they in the prison for an unjustified long time before taking the prisoner out to the hospital.

All these violations have been evident to the prison’s superiors, but no one seems to do anything about them.

–        What are the consequences of your allegations?

–        Before talking to rights activist Vladimir Osechkin I talked to my bosses about violations I saw and heard of from prisoners. First they told me to mind my own business. Then they subjected me to full examination — that is undressed me — in front of the prisoners. After I made the violations public, they called on extraordinary meeting to criticise me. The Moscow Department of the Russian Correction Service, together with Moscow Prosecutor’s Office said they investigated the facts I made public and didn’t find any confirmations. As far as I know they were uninterested and haven’t checked properly. According to my sources the head of the prison has signed papers to fire me. Actually I have already lost my job as my superiors told me I was no longer in charge of educational work and had to guard the entrance to Butyrka.

–        Weren’t you going to quit yourself or do you still think the system can be improved from within?

–        My bosses in Butyrka told me I shouldn’t have brought facts “to the outside”. But long before that I was taught to tell the truth, which I did. I am ready to repeat them in court if needed. it is not impossible to improve the system from within, one should just stay honest. And if they fire me, I’ll most probably become a human rights activist fighting not just for prisoners, but for honest prison workers. They do exist and they support me.

Russia: Bill for stricter responsibility for online libel drafted

A new bill introducing stricter responsibility for online libel has been proposed by the head of United Russia political party. Alexander Mikhelson has introduced legislation on creating and spreading false information via the internet following online rumours that governor of the Kemerovo region, Aman Tuleyeve, was found dead. Elsewhere in Russia, businessman and former millionaire Alexey Kozlov was released from prison. Kozlov was unjustly imprisoned in 2007 under trumped-up accusations, but his public popularity remained high due to his prison blog. started its own version of the blog, covering other unjustly convicted businessmen.