Russian court helps FSB fake testimony against imprisoned Crimean anarchist
Yevhen Karakashev, a Crimean anarchist imprisoned for a post on social media, has demanded that the court in Rostov release him and award him almost 10 billion roubles in damages. The demand was, predictably, rejected by the military court in Rostov-on-Don, which has already tried and sentenced many Ukrainian political prisoners. It did, nonetheless, demonstrate that 40-year-old Karakashev has not been cowered and also highlighted the political nature of this trial. Karakashev’s lawyer, Alexei Ladin, considers the case to be not only against international law, but in violation of Russia’s Constitution, since it is a direct attack on freedom of speech.
There are also strong grounds for believing that the Russian prosecution’s main witness against Karakashev is giving testimony under duress. Such methods are standard for Russia’s FSB, however this case is more shocking since the presiding judge has allowed the witness to not answer questions that would have exposed the real reason for his testimony.
Sergei Vasylchenko was prosecuted and imprisoned for 10 days in November 2016 after calling on people to boycott Russia’s illegal elections. Just before this, he posted an appeal on YouTube in which he spoke of attempts to bring criminal proceedings against him for supposed incitement to enmity.
During the court hearing on 21 March 2019, Karakashev’s lawyer asked about these attempts. Since Vasylchenko is, on the one hand denying that he is testifying under duress, it is legitimate to ask about threats ofl criminal prosecution on charges that are regularly abused in Russia and occupied Crimea. Nonetheless, Vasylchenko asked the court for permission to not answer the questions and the presiding judge allowed this. Karakashev’s lawyer, Alexei Ladin protested, saying that the court was thus depriving him of the possibility of proving whether a key witness is likely to be telling the truth.
Judging by the testimony of at least two participants of the chat, questioned in court as prosecution witnesses, it is not only Karakashev and his lawyer who believe that the FSB pulled one phrase out of context in order to concoct a case against him. The FSB have trusted ‘experts’ who will always oblige by perceiving ‘propaganda of the ideology of violence’ and ‘calls to carry out terrorist activities’.
The Russian-controlled prosecutor claims that at the end of 2014, Karakashev made a pronouncement during a social media chat with other Crimean anarchists which “contained linguistic and psychological signs of incitement to carry out violent, destructive actions (blowing up cars, buildings, state authorities)”.
The allegations sound alarming, however the reality is quite different. Karakashev himself says that he had simply asked the other participants in the chat whether they thought the actions of the so-called Prymorsky Partisans made sense. The ‘partisans’ in question were six vigilantes who waged a bloody war against the Russian police. While it may be impossible to condone the shocking methods the six men used, calling discussion of these methods ‘incitement to terrorism’ seems seriously stressed.
It was earlier reported that one of Karakashev’s posts on the social network VKontakte was a video of the last interview given by the Prymorsky Partisans who explained that they had declared war on the police because of the brutality and corruption entrenched in the Russian police force. The video was declared ‘extremist’ by a court in Russia, and copies of the interview posted on social media before the court ruling and forgotten, are used, when the FSB can’t find another pretext, for questionable prosecutions.
Karakashev first attracted Russian FSB attention in the summer of 2016 when a group of Crimean anarchists were prevented by police from holding a picket outside the FSB office in support of Ukrainian political prisoner (and fellow anarchist) Oleksandr Kolchenko and other political prisoners.
Then on 1 February 2018, enforcement officers burst into Karakashev’s home in Yevpatoria, forced him to the floor, with his arms behind his back in handcuffs. A search was carried out of his home, and he was taken away and remanded in custody the following day. There was a long period in police custody before he was able to phone a friend and ask for a lawyer to be contacted, and it seems likely that the multiple abrasions and other injuries were sustained during that period. The ‘investigator’, Allgiz Abushev was later unable to remember how long Karakashev had been held in handcuffs. In remanding him in custody on 2 February, ‘judge’ Alexei Nanarov saw no need to question the prominent abrasion on Karakashev’s forehead, and the police have since refused to initiate proceedings over his injuries.
Although the Memorial Human Rights Centre has not yet formally declared Karakashev to be a political prisoner, it has added him to its list of likely victims of political persecution. There is a strong likelihood, Memorial HRC states, that “the criminal proceedings against Yevhen Karakashev were initiated in the context of his opposition civic and political activities as a frequent participant in protests in Crimea.” They view this as part of a mounting attack on left-wing activists and anti-fascists since January 2018.
Karakashev was initially charged also under Article 282 § 1 of Russia’s criminal code (inciting enmity) but this charge was recently dropped after a very modest improvement in Russian legislation.
With its usual contempt for the presumption of innocence, Russia added Karakashev to its notorious ‘List of Terrorists and Extremists’ in September 2018. He is there together with Oleg Sentsov, Oleksandr Kolchenko, Ruslan Zeytullaev, human rights activist Emir-Usein Kuku and very many other Ukrainian political prisoners.