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.


Opposition activist Sergey Udaltsov under threat from Moscow police

Opposition leader  Sergey Udaltsov has spent much of December under arrest and on hunger strike — but the unity of his supporters grows stronger as his health continues to deteriorate. “The authorities are trying to silence me, but they cannot silence tens of thousands people who got to know me because of my illegal arrest,” Udaltsov told Index.

Sergey Udaltsov is an activist and a leader of the Left Front public movement. He has been frequently arrested for holding peaceful, but unauthorised actions of protest. Amnesty International considers him “a prisoner of conscience“, who should not be detained at all.

Russian authorities grew used to arresting Udaltsov during the past few years and journalists even joked that he was likely to make friends with policemen who never gave up a chance to detain him. But this December, Udaltsov’s arrests are no longer the subject of jokes, and rights activists now fear for his life.

Udaltsov was arrested on 4 December while protesting with the masses demonstrating against  allegedly fraudulent parliamentary elections. He was sentenced to administrative arrest until 9 December and subsequently went on hunger strike and was sent to a hospital. He was then detained again sentenced again on 9 December for having allegedly escaped from police custody after protesting two months prior. On 25 December, Udaltsov was arrested once more for the same October protest, which has puzzled rights activists.

The incident in question occurred on 24 October. Udaltsov was detained while attempting to hold a one-man picket near the Central Election Committee building. But before he started, the  police arrested him while he was speaking to journalists. Udaltsov was then sentenced to 10 days of administrative arrest for allegedly having tried to hold an unsanctioned rally. He immediately went on hunger strike, and was subsequently hospitalised. He was discharged from the hospital not long before his arrest term expired, and a judge ruled in December’s proceedings that he had escaped while under arrest in October.

Many journalists and rights activists are certain that Udaltsov’s arrests were made to prevent him from participating in the two biggest rallies in post-Soviet Russia against unfair parliamentary elections. Meanwhile, it has almost been a month since the start of Udaltsov’s hunger strike. His stomach ulcer continues to worsen, and a pre-existing kidney condition is now aggravated.

Journalists and human rights activists expressed concern, as they were barred from the court room on 25 December, where Udaltsov was sentenced once again. Ekho Moskvy editor-in-chief Alexey Venediktov filed inquiries to Moscow state court chair Olga Egorova as well as Arthur Parfenchikov, the Russian Bailiff’s authority head, to ask for an explanation.

Judge Olga Borovkova, who sentenced the ill Udaltsov, is notorious for convicting opposition leaders and human rights activists during the past few years. Udaltsov’s supporters are now spreading leaflets with the slogan “Does Borovkova have a conscience?” The slogan angered Russia’s Upper House speaker, Alexander Torshin, who blasted the campaign for being “a pressure on the judge,” and alleged that journalists and activists had “broken down the door in the court room,” a charge refuted by witnesses.

Udaltsov says that police try to prevent him from talking on the phone and meeting visitors. While he is expected to be released on 4 January, there is not much confidence that he will not be arrested again for past activism that could hardly be regarded as illegal. “Anyone could be in my place”, Udaltsov told Index. The authorities have grown used to persecuting opposition leaders.

Ecologist Yaroslov Nikitenko, one of the activists gathered in front of the court house in support of Udaltsov on 25 December, was detained and arrested for 10 days for “having failed to follow a lawful order of policeman,” the same reasoning used to arrest Udaltsov in October. Nikitenko denies the accusation. Moscow authorities today refused to sanction a rally Udaltsov supporters planned to hold on 29 December, but supporters plan to rally anyway, risking the same fate as Nikitenko.

“Their stupid repression policy only unites opposition and angers citizens”, Udaltsov said. His wife Anastasia, also a Left Front activist and one of the organisers of the rallies on 10 and 24 December, agrees with her husband: “It seems like the officials are incapable of analysing the current political situation and the general protest feeling — they are harming themselves by making a hero and a martyr out of Sergey.”

Despite problems with his health, Udaltsov finds value repression from the state, as he believes that it “will only do good for the awakening of the civil society in Russia.”

Russia gets ready to protest

The first meeting of Russia’s newly elected State Duma will be held on 21 December. Tens of thousands of Russians protested the parliamentary elections, based on claims that they were unfair. This week protesters will take to the streets again with a rally against election fraud on 24 December.

The European Parliament echoed the protesters’ concerns, and passed a resolution calling for new parliamentary elections in Russia, as well as a thorough investigation into all reports of alleged fraud on elections held on 4 December. The Russian authorities rejected the EU parliament’s intervention.

Prime-minister Vladimir Putin said the protesters had been paid to attend the 10 December rally, which was the biggest in post-Soviet Russia. Putin added that opposition leaders had referred to them as “sheep” from the stage. Both allegations are untrue. President Dmitry Medvedev said that the EU parliament resolution supporting protestants’ demands “meant nothing”, and former deputy head of State Duma international committee Leonid Slutsky told ITAR-TASS news agency that the resolution was “gross interference in the affairs of a sovereign state”.

The controversial resolution mostly covered the context of the recent elections, but it also highlighted “concerns, regarding the human rights situation in Russia, the rule of law, independence of the judiciary and the repressive measures taken against journalists and the opposition”.

The resolution merely captured the bitter truth of the situation, as proved by events last week. In the Republic of  Dagestan — a federal subject of Russia — journalist Khadzhimurad Kamalov, founder of Chernovik, an opposition newspaper, was shot outside his office on 15 December. Kamalov was remembered as a brave man, respected for the risks he took by investing in the independent media. He inspired people to write about corruption and human rights abuse in North Caucasus. His colleagues along with Memorial, an international human rights society said his murder was “political” and motivated by his work. His articles and investigations he made public in Chernovik were widely quoted in Dagestan. Makhachkala city administration filed an open letter to Kamalov in September, accusing him of “libel, deception and mutual distrust fomentation”, which Chernovik journalists regarded as an attempt to silence them.

The detention of one of Russia’s opposition leaders, Sergey Udaltsov further confirms the statements of the EU parliament resolution. Udaltsov was arrested on 4 December while attempting to protest in the rally against violations of election laws, and sentenced to administrative arrest until 25 December. Since his arrest, Udaltsov has been on a dry hunger strike, and his health is under serious threat according to his wife and attorney. He is now in the resuscitation department of one of Moscow’s hospitals. Human rights activists and opposition leaders have expressed concern for his life.

Musician Vassily Shumov, also famous for having held a concert to support music critic Art Troitsky, planned to hold a concert in support of Sergey Udaltsov and other prisoners rights activists considered to be “political”, but was suddenly rejected by the club which had previously agreed to carry it out. Shumov suggested that the club might have declined to participate based on pressure from the authorities.

Opposition leaders, rights activists and public figures are now preparing for the rally on 24 December. It is meant to be the public’s response to authorities, who have ignored their demands to set political prisoners free, hold new and fair parliamentary elections, and to protect freedom of expression. Their primary objective is to encourage citizens to overcome fears of repression for expressing their views, and to build confidence in their ability to influence Russian government policy through publicly expressing their discontent. Christmas Eve will determine whether or not they succeed.