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Crimean left-wing activist arrested, drugged and charged with ‘extremism’

Halya Coynash

The ‘trial’ is continuing in Russian-occupied Crimea of Valery Bolshakov, a left-wing activist charged with ‘public calls to carry out extremist activities’.  Bolshakov is facing a possible three-year prison sentence for social media posts in which the Russian Investigative Committee perceived calls to overthrow the regime of Russian President Vladimir Putin.  Bolshakov only discovered that he was supposed to have ‘confessed’ to such calls after lawyer Alexei Ladin took on the case.

Both Bolshakov and his lawyer consider the prosecution to be politically motivated.  Bolshakov asserts that he began facing persecution after a single-person picket against the Russian authorities.

The initial charges laid against Bolshakov back in November 2017 were of ‘incitement to enmity’ with the alleged target of this enmity being Terek Cossacks.  That charge, under Article 282 § 1  of Russia’s criminal code, was recently withdrawn after a very modest improvement in an article widely abused to persecute people for social media reposts or posts.  The first prosecution of supposed incitement is now under administrative legislation.

The limitations of this apparent easing of the law can be seen clearly in this case where Bolshakov is facing other charges over the same social media posts. He was charged in January 2018 under Article 280 §§ 1 and 2 with alleged calls to commit ‘extremist activities’, and the more serious charge of the same calls with the use of the mass media.  It is the latter charge that could carry a sentence of up to three years’ imprisonment.  Russia’s legislation on so-called ‘extremism’ has elicited international criticism, with the term so loose that it can be and usually is used against those exercising their right to freedom of speech on social media or elsewhere.

The Russian-controlled prosecutor in Sevastopol claims that the posts called to hostile actions towards the same group of people, namely Terek Cossacks.  During the ‘court hearing’ on 22 February, the prosecutor also interrogated Bolshakov on his opinion about Vladimir Lenin’s pronouncement that “power can only be seized by force”.

Bolshakov denies the charges and says that his utterances have been falsely interpreted.  He also alleges that after the search of his apartment, he was taken to what he terms the police station where ambulance medics injected him, against his will, with some unknown substance. He says that he felt bad after the injection, that he felt intoxicated and half-sleepy, as well as getting a headache and eye pain.

He asserts that it was the ‘investigator’ who wrote the explanation in which Bolshakov was supposed to have confessed to calls to change the regime, to extremist activities and to insulting officers from the Investigative Committee.

The protocol claimed that Bolshakov had read out his network and IP addresses by heart, as well as reciting verbatim the statements on social media which he is charged in connection with.  Bolshakov pointed out that this protocol had been drawn up without a lawyer present, and he questioned that the signatures on it were his. A second protocol, drawn up later with a lawyer,  differs significantly from the first.

Bolshakov is one of two Crimean left-wing activists facing these charges, with the other Yevhen Karakashev imprisoned since 1 February 2018.  Those arrests coincided with arrests of left-wing activists in Russia.

With the contempt for the presumption of innocence standard in Russia and, now, in occupied Crimea, both Bolshakov and Karakhashev have been added to Russia’s notorious ‘List of Terrorists and Extremists’.  This means that even Bolshakov, who has not been placed in detention, still faces major difficulties in getting money out of his own bank account, etc. 

The renowned Memorial Human Rights Centre has added Karakashev, who remains in detention, to its list of likely victims of political persecution.

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