Russian rights activist investigating soldiers’ deaths in Ukraine arrested
PLEASE SEE THE FOLLOWING FOR UPDATED INFORMATION: Dodgy case against elderly activist exposing Russian soldiers’ deaths in Ukraine continues
In Russia a 73-year-old Ludmila Bogatenkova, head of a regional Committee of Soldiers Mothers, who has been investigating the deaths of Russian conscripts in Ukraine has reportedly been moved to a SIZO [pre-trial detention centre] 140 kilometres from her home city a day after her arrest on highly dubious charges. This is despite her age and a serious medical condition resulting in her being taken ill several times on Saturday and an ambulance being called to the court.
Bogatenkova was arrested on Oct 17 and a search carried out of the Soldiers’ Mothers Committee premises. She has been accused of ‘fraud on a large scale’ with this apparently because somebody has accused her of owing 500 thousand roubles (slightly less than 10 thousand EUR).
Human rights colleagues are unanimous in viewing Bogatenkova’s arrest and detention as an act of intimidation because of her work. She has for many years defended soldiers’ rights, uncovering cases of inhuman treatment and torture of conscripts.
More specifically she has of late been investigating deaths that the Russian authorities are trying to conceal or lie about – those of soldiers and conscripts who died fighting in Russia’s undeclared war against Ukraine. She is also an expert for the permanent committee on military-civilian relations of the President’s advisory committee on human rights [the human rights committee
As reported, on Aug 28 her Committee drew up a list of around one hundred Russian soldiers killed and a further three hundred injured. At the time Bogatenkova told TV Dozhd that the list had been put together from various sources in the armed forces which, for obvious reasons, she could not reveal. It was sent to the President’s advisory committee on human rights.
Bogatenkova also sent the human rights committee information about the deaths of 9 contract soldiers from the eighteenth mechanized infantry brigade.
Information at present is coming mainly from Bogatenkova’s colleagues in the Soldiers’ Mothers Committee as she has refused to take the lawyer provided by the investigators and the lawyer she wants is unable to begin before Monday. It is unclear whether her transfer to Pytigorsk will be a major impediment to the lawyer, Viktor Polezhaev, but it certainly makes contact with her and ongoing supplies of vital medication, proper food, etc. difficult. For an elderly woman with a serious health issue detention is already unwarranted, and the transfer inexcusable.
Sergei Kryvenko from the human rights council is also in no doubt that Bogatenkova has been arrested because of her investigation into the deaths of soldiers. He promises that the council will demand an explanation from the Investigative Committee.
It was on the basis of the letter Bogatenkova wrote that Ella Polyakova, head of the NGO Soldiers Mothers of St Petersburg and member of the human rights council, wrote to the relevant department of Russia’s Investigative Committee. The letter asked for a check to be carried out of the death of servicemen in July and August and for a criminal investigation to be initiated over supposed fatal accidents or suicides while conscripts were on training exercises.
The letter pointed out that the authorities should have initiated the check themselves and warned that if the military investigators refused to initiate such investigations, they would be forced to publish information about this in the same media which posted the reports of the men’s death. No answer has yet been received.
In the meantime secrecy and subterfuge prevail. Relatives have clearly been placed under pressure to conceal details about – or even the fact of - a soldier’s death. Bereaved wives have been told that their husbands had ‘resigned’ from the military (if they were on contract work) before they died. This also has practical ramifications depriving widows, often with children, of the assistance which they could otherwise expect. Relatives are told that their husbands / sons died, for example, of heart failure or committed suicide. Moscow’s line has consistently been to deny the involvement of Russian forces. Where absolutely forced to acknowledge that a Russian soldier was fighting, it is claimed – and pushed in the pro-Kremlin media – that he had taken ‘leave’ which he used to go and fight in Ukraine.
With a number of journalists and NGOs stubbornly refusing to stay silent, repressive measures or attempts to frighten people into keeping their mouth shut have also been applied.
Lev Shlosberg, an opposition politician and journalist in Pskov was seriously attacked just days after he divulged information about the Pskov paratroopers whose death in Ukraine Russia had been trying to conceal. It appears that virtually an entire regiment was killed.
The St Petersburg Committee of Soldiers’ Mothers was declared a ‘foreign agent’ a few days after it began revealing information about soldiers being killed in Ukraine.
Under such circumstances it is near impossible to believe in the ‘fraud’ charges against 73-year-old Ludmila Bogatenkova, and in any legitimate grounds for her detention.
It seems ominously likely that the charges are not even intended to be credible with the aim being to ensure that any others unwilling to stay silent about young men being sent to fight, and dying, in Ukraine are warned of what they too can expect. .
A petition demanding the immediate release of 73-year-old Ludmila Bogatenkova can be endorsed here http://goo.gl/FQieuK