Russian Justice as an instrument of political repression


This report is based on appeals and analytical material received by the movement “For Human Rights”, and information published by journalists, public and political organizations. We would point out that in this report we do not consider the question of mass fabrication of repressions, including extrajudicial killings, many examples of which we know.

Political repression continues unabated in the Russian Federation; with the number of political prisoners (those who have never resorted to violence nor called for it, and have been imprisoned for their beliefs, political and public activities) or people whose persecution is linked with a wish by the state authorities and officials to strengthen their positions and control over different spheres of life, according to various estimates, standing at about 200. Several dozen are under investigation at the present time, or have received suspended sentences.

We consider court rulings or decisions of investigation agencies as unfair and unlawful where they are made in the interests of a state authority or department, or for a misinterpreted notion of “benefit to the State”, with these reflecting the political corruption of Justice.

Russian Human Rights activists consider political prisoners to be not only victims of authorized repression against oppositionists and dissidents, but also victims of political corruption.

A typical example of a political order to persecute a public figure is the high-profile case of Yekaterinburg human rights activist, head of “Legal basis” foundation Aleksey Sokolov, who held a public inquiry into several crimes, including mass beating up and murders of prisoners (the movie “Torture factory”, hearings on circumstances of the murder of 4 people by jailers in the colony in the city of Kopeysk in May 31, 2008, inquiry into reasons of mass death of youngsters in a jam near “Hollywood” club in March 2009) and other resonant cases.

On 13 May, 2009 Sokolov was seized near his house and charged with involvement in criminal offences committed 8 years ago – on the basis of testimony of prisoners who had been convicted of these crimes and had complained to Sokolov of tortures for many years. After his release from the courtroom Sokolov was immediately arrested near the detention center’s gates on another absurd charge.

The most well-known examples of political corruption of Justice are false accusations of espionage. The fate of scientists Valentin Danilov and Igor Sutyagin who were sentenced to 14 and 15 years of imprisonment have received the most publicity (recently the Court refused early conditional release to Igor Sutyagin). The wave of fabricated espionage trials over the last decade resulted in not only an upsurge in spy mania, but also in the restoration of an almost Soviet level of special agencies’ control over international scientific cooperation. 

By all accounts, the trial proceedings of cases of Yukos oil company, first of all both trials of Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev were aimed at a large scale transformation of the Russian political system: establishment of financial basis of a new elite of siloviki, and intimidation of big business.

Since the year 2003 there have been other “Khodorkovsky case” look-alikes, with persecutions of other businessmen from Mikhail Gutseriev (Russneft company) to small businessmen such as publisher of “Life” newspaper Aigul Makhmutova), managers and corporative lawyers (two more terrible examples which shook the country – has been the inhuman treatment of terminally ill Vasiliy Aleksanyan and the death of attorney Sergei Magnitsky in the cell of “Sailor silence” detention center).

These persecutions have resulted in a radical transformation of the public and political situation – Russian business has practically ceased to participate in politics, refused to support the opposition and independent institutions of Russian society.

Cases of politically motivated terror are actively fabricated in order to justify a sharp increase of control of the Ministry of Internal Affairs over public and political life, and manipulation of society. Here we give two examples:

  The case of the first explosion of elite train “Nevskiy express” on August 13, 2007: ethnic Ingush Salambek Dzakhkiev sentenced to 10 years of imprisonment in a harsh regime colony was accused of transportation of explosives on the basis of testimony of people who stated in court that they had been tortured. He was also charged with robbery which had been allegedly committed in 2003 (!)

 The case of student Ivan Belousov who was accused of blowing up a lamp pole at Manezh Square in the heart of Moscow on December 27, 2007. Investigation agencies assumed that  Belousov had been acting as a member of the Russian nationalistic underground because he knew some right-wing ideologists. We have an official expert examination from the MIA indicating that approximately half an hour before the explosion, somebody knew about the later events and made a CD copy of the only one moment from the all many hours camera record – 2,5 minutes when somebody allegedly mined the lamp pole.

The monstrously absurd case of “Saratov satanists”, fabricated with Federal Security Service assistance. 25 years old student of Medical Faculty Aleksandr Kazakov is accused of creation of “Noble Order of the Devil”. The case was fabricated with Federal Security Assistance and through the use of physical torture (brutal beating up) and psychological (during the investigation the “suspects” were threatened with homosexual rape). In fact it was interest of youngsters in mysticism, and there was nothing real in the accusation but a sexual episode of three years prescription.

The last scandal concerning political persecution of oppositionists is a hunger strike of State Duma Deputy Oleg Shein (“Fair Russia” fraction) and other 6 participants as a sign of protest against a systematic fabrication of criminal charges against representative of Opposition. It should be noted that it concerns only a moderate opposition which protests against abuse of local representatives of “United Russia”.


Several years targeted political repressions mainly were based on the following factors:

Participation in civil protest actions such as a symbolic “capture” of MHSD (Ministry of Health and Social Development) and Public Reception of the President of the Russian Federation in 2004; or protests against high prices in restaurants;

Attempts to resist riffraff of pro-Kremlin youth organizations;

Banal tossing drug.

Currently political Justice persecutes citizens on the basis of the following accusations:

Incitement of social hatred;

Membership in “banned organizations”.


It’s necessary to consider accusations of incitement of social hatred, hostility and intimidation on the grounds of social groups (article 282 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation). Article 29 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation, guaranteeing freedom of speech, prohibits the promotion of social hatred, without giving a detailed interpretation of this concept. However the legislation of the Russian Federation doesn’t establish criteria of a “social group” (in terms of various directions of sociology; anything can fall under this term). It made an opportunity to substitute combating promotion of social hatred for a ban on any radical protest demonstrations. For example: such terms as “Ment” (slangy equivalent of a term “militia officer”) (the case of blogger Savva Terentyev from the city of Novosibirsk), “Government” (the case of resident of the city of Khabarovsk Natalia Ignatyeva), “Federal Security Service officers” (the case of communist Andrei Nikiforov from the city on Novosibirsk) have been slant in favour of the concept “social group”. In 2009 Human Rights activists urged President Dmitriy Medvedev stop bringing such charges. The Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation refused to accept the complaint against unconstitutionality of charges with incitement of hatred for social groups without its consideration.

Fabrications of charges of belonging to banned organizations come thick and fast, with these in the first instance concerning allegations of membership of the National-Bolshevik party (NBP) founded by Eduard Limonov. The party was liquidated at the end of 2005 for participation of its members in civil protest actions, before that the party was refused registration for its statutory goal to protect the rights of compatriots (Russian and Russian-speaking) in countries of the new abroad. It should be noted that all prosecuted people have already been members of other parties and organizations, for example, Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF), or large oppositional coalition “Other Russia”. Numerous defendants said that they were just supporters of the doctrine “national-bolshevism” which had been created in the 20s by Russian philosopher Nikolay Ustryalov. This doctrine proposed to reform Soviet communism and was never recognized as extremist.

Another unfairly banned organization is the “Russian section” of the network party “Hizb ut Tahrir al Islamiy”. Obviously, Russian cells of this structure have no organizational tie either with the party created in 1943 in Arabic countries or with organizations with the same name in Uzbekistan and other countries. However many Muslims in Russia are convicted only of their involvement in “Hizb ut Tahrir al Islamiy”. It should be noted that the call for peaceful establishment of the united nationalist Islamic Government should be respected as well as the position of Russian Orthodox Church about advantage of autocratic monarchy over republican system.

Examples of persecution of religious dissidents are searches conducted in Islamic chapels in Saint-Petersburg on March 19, 2010; persecution of bishop of the Russian Orthodox Autonomous Church Grigoriy (V.M. Luriye) because he doesn’t bear allegiance to the Moscow Patriarchate. Moreover, law-enforcement agencies dared to decide which relicts are authentic!

Another telling example of persecution for religious dissention is the criminal prosecution of the Jehovah’s Witnesses  for incitement of religious hatred – they have been accused of questioning the doctrine of the Trinity and other Christian doctrines.

At lower level, politically motivated repressions are expressed in systematic use of administrative liability against participants in political meetings and demonstrations allegedly for “disobeying a police officer”, because the authorities are convinced that the threat of penalty (1000-2000 rubles fine) for “violation of order during mass events” is not capable of deterring participants of mass protest actions. In order to fabricate charges, false testimony of police officers is frequently used in courts, as well as ready-made templates of “witnesses”’ testimony (which are distributed to police and OMON officers).

Lev Ponomaryov,

Executive Director of the Movement “For Human Rights”, Member of Moscow Helsinki Group

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