A Russian newspaper has published evidence that the FSB used a neo-Nazi agent provocateur to try to entrap defendants in the "Network" case, who were then arrested and tortured
Anti-fascists have launched an international campaign to defend Russian activists who have been arrested, tortured in detention, and charged with terrorism-related offences in the “Network” case.
The Federal Security Service (FSB) claims that 11 people arrested in St Petersburg and Penza were part of an underground terrorist group seeking to sow disorder ahead of the 2018 Russian Presidential elections and the football World Cup.
Several of the detainees have described in detail how they were tortured by the FSB. For example, Viktor Filinkov described how he was tortured with an electric shocker after being detained at St Petersburg Pulkovo Airport in January 2018. Filinkov stated that FSB officers put him in a minivan, and then drove him around the city while torturing him into learning a forced confession.
The quasi-official Public Monitoring Commission has compiled evidence of torture, and the issue was raised on the Kremlin’s own Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights. Nevertheless, preparations for what the defendants and their families describe as a show trial continue.
On 19 January, demonstrations in solidarity with the defendants were held in Moscow, St Petersburg, Kyiv, London and other European and American cities. (Information on the London event here and here.)
On 17 January, defendant Igor Shishkin received three and a half years for participation in a terrorist organisation. Shishkin admitted his guilt and came to a pre-trial agreement with the investigation. Most other defendants have renounced their confessions, referring to the fact that they were tortured by FSB officers.
The following text, by TATYANA LIKHANOVA of the independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, describes the use of what appears to be an agent provocateur in the “Network” case. This agent, who attended the same sports club as one of the case’s investigators in Penza, previously gave information to Ilya Shakursky, one of the defendants, and appears to have encouraged Shakursky to take radical action. We translated it with the author’s permission.
Following the conviction of Igor Shishkin, his lawyer Dmitry Dinze published several extracts from the case materials in a Facebook post. According to this post, a certain “V.I. Kabanov (an agent who possesses audio files of conversations with members of ‘The Network’)” features on the list of witnesses who testified against the defendants.
Ilya Shakursky, one of the Penza-based defendants in the “Network” case, reported that this agent came into contact with the anti-fascists previously, in a statement made last April. Having introduced himself as “Vlad Dobrovolsky”, the agent encouraged them to take radical measures against the Russian authorities and engage in violent acts against law enforcement officials. Shakursky’s statement was filed to Senior Investigator Valery Tokarev and attached to the case files. But this evidence was not verified by law enforcement.
At a recent court hearing on the extension of pretrial restraint for Shakursky, the following statement by the defendant was read out by the presiding officer (the session was open to the public, and journalists made audio recordings):
... In autumn 2016, I met a young man named Vlad Dobrovolsky on the VKontakte social network [a Russian network similar to Facebook]. His name and surname may not be real. He was of an average height, with short dark hair, a beard, strong build. I can identify him. I also know that he was studying at Penza State University. Vlad had given me important information about upcoming attacks by neo-Nazis on anti-fascist events. According to him, he did it because of a personal grudge against the Penza Nazis.
He also told me that some neo-Nazis maintain close relations with officers from the counter-extremism department, who, in turn, do not prevent the organisation of neo-Nazi events (tournaments, meetings, concerts).
Vlad found out later that I play airsoft, and offered to give me a few training sessions on tactics. At one of his training sessions, he showed me his ‘Wild Boar’ firearm.
Later, he told me that a radical neo-Nazi organisation operates in Siberia; its aim is to fight for the autonomy of Siberia. As a committed anti-fascist, I felt it was my duty to learn more about this organisation in order to expose it later on by writing articles in the media. That is why I deliberately misled Dobrovolsky when I spoke about my views and supported his proposals. My goal was to gain his trust to learn more about the neo-Nazis.
In spite of his constant requests to meet, I rarely met Vlad. Communication with him was not a priority for me. I was busy with my studies and my personal life. At the last meeting in summer 2017, he has started to talk about his desire to move on to a radical action and to try to make an explosive device. I thought he was a crazy fanatic and stopped talking to him, ignoring his calls.
In court, Shakursky clarified that the man called “Dobrovolsky” is known in Penza as a neo-Nazi.
Novaya Gazeta found a user with the same name on the Ask.fm social network. His jokes in the comments have a nationalist flavour.
Talking with relatives during breaks, Shakursky also said that he recorded conversations with Vlad on his smartphone. He also saved the correspondence with him and photographs of “Dobrovolsky” from several meetings (a friend of Shakursky’s, on his request, photographed them secretly).
Law enforcement confiscated the smartphone and computer. According to Shakursky, the investigating officers showed his correspondence with “Dobrovolsky” to Dmitry Pchelintsev, another defendant, but this correspondence is not in the file. As for the audio recordings, they were added to the case, but with omissions that allow the remaining phrases to be used against the defendants. The defence has no access to the original records, since Shakursky’s electronic devices remain in the possession of the investigation.
When Ilya’s acquaintances showed a photo of “Dobrovolsky” to students at Penza university, they recognised a Penza State University student called Vlad Gresko. As Novaya Gazeta has noted, on Ask.fm, people address user wlad8 as “Gres’”.
Web searches revealed yet another coincidence: “Dobrovolsky” trains at the same sport club as investigator Valery Tokarev. Both appear in pictures on the “zavod58_sport_club” online community.
During breaks in court, Shakursky also managed to report that, after one of his meetings with Vlad, a sporty-looking man came up to him on the street and started trying to provoke a fight. Subsequently, after his arrest, Shakursky saw this same man in the FSB office. The man turned out to be Dmitry N., an investigating officer of Penza FSB.
According to Shakursky, this officer “listened to Nazi bands [...] and talked to officer Shepelev about his desire to ‘shoot shavki’ [Russian neo-Nazi slang for anti-fascists – Novaya Gazeta]. I pretended that I did not recognise him.”
Indeed, according to Shakursky’s statement on torture, it was Captain Shepelev who subjected Shakursky to torture in an effort to force him to confess to terrorism charges. During a court session break, Shakursky said:
This man [Shepelev] participated in my torture and the torture of Dima [Dmitry Pchelintsev, another defendant]. He threatened that he would rape me… When the human rights ombudsperson [Elena Rogova] visited us … which was a while ago, when Dima and I couldn’t see each other, she asked me to draw the locations [in investigation detention] where I had been tortured. I drew them. In the office next door, Dima drew the same thing. She compared them, and it was the same place. Although I was not being kept there officially [according to the Military Investigative Commission’s investigation into the claims of torture - Novaya Gazeta]. ...
There were three people there — Shepelev held me down, tied me up with black tape. … I was just wearing my underwear. He took my underwear off and said he was going to rape me.
Elena Bogatova, Shakursky’s mother, told journalists that when law enforcement searched her son’s apartment, officers went straight to a hole under the kitchen window. There, they found “an improvised explosive device camouflaged as a fire-extinguisher”. When officer Shepelev ordered officers to look under the couch, a pistol was found.
The initial forensic test did not find any DNA or fingerprint traces belonging to Shakursky on these items. Then, after Shakursky gave a saliva test, a second test was conducted. This test showed traces of Shakursky’s DNA on a piece of electrical tape stuck to the explosive device. But, as Elena Bogatova recalls, and photographs of the search confirm, after the device was found, it was left on the apartment floor for a period of time — where, given that Shakursky had lived there for a significant period of time, there were bound to be traces of his DNA.
According to Bogatova, Captain Shepelev also tried to force her to give a “correct comment” to the NTV television channel when they interviewed her. She was advised not to deny the existence of a terrorist organisation and not insist on her son’s innocence. Otherwise, Bogatova says, Shepelev threatened that he would start a rumour in prison that her son was paedophile.
■ A cash appeal to support the “Network” case defendants (for legal expenses and their families), initiated by the organising committee for the 19 January demonstration in London, will close in nine days’ time on 8 February. It has raised more than £3000, surpassing an original target of £2000. But we are making a final push to try to hit £4000. You can see the details, and donate, here.