war crimes in Ukraine

The Tribunal for Putin (T4P) global initiative was set up in response to the all-out war launched by Russia against Ukraine in February 2022.

Russia sentences 15-year-old schoolboy to 5 years for criticizing Putin regime and war against Ukraine

Halya Coynash
Arseny Turbin had merely posted leaflets critical of Vladimir Putin and shown interest, no more, in the Free Russia Legion

Arseny Turbin Photo posted by Memorial

Arseny Turbin Photo posted by Memorial

The current regime in Russia has reached new depths with the five-year sentence passed against Arseny Turbin, a 15-year-old from Oryol oblast.  The young lad was arrested for circulating leaflets critical of Russian leader Vladimir Putin and for his interest in the Free Russia Legion and its opposition to Russia’s war against Ukraine.

The Memorial Support for Political Prisoners Project has already declared Arseny a political prisoner and given a damning assessment of the charges against him and of his ‘trial’.

Arseny Turbin (b. 19 August 2008) should have been looking forward to the end of the school year and the holidays.  Instead, after almost a year spent under house arrest, he is now imprisoned, with a Russian court having sentenced him on 20 June 2024 to five years’ imprisonment in a juvenile prison colony on insane, and totally unproven, charges.  He was accused, under Russia’s flawed ‘terrorism’ legislation with ‘participation in the activities of an organization which has, in accordance with Russian Federation legislation, been declared terrorist’ (Article 205.5 § 2 of Russia’s criminal code). 

This charge is actively used by Russia’s FSB in occupied Crimea for political and religious persecution of Crimean Tatars and other Ukrainians.  Russia is now also using it against Russians or Ukrainians it accuses of ‘involvement’ in the ‘Free Russia’ (or ‘Freedom of Russia’) Legion.  This is a paramilitary organization actively opposing the current Russian regime and its war of aggression against Ukraine.  The Legion was declared ‘terrorist’ by Russia’s Supreme Court on 16 March 2023, with Russia now using this ruling as justification for sentencing people to up to 20 years without any actual crime.  One recent victim was a young Ukrainian mother of two, Krystyna Liubashenko. She was tricked into coming to Moscow, arrested and, on 17 June 2024, sentenced to 12 years’ imprisonment for the Ukrainian national anthem, an anti-war message and balloons.

The criminal charges against Arseny are no less shocking.  The FSB burst into the home he shares with his mother and grandparents in the early morning of 25 August 2023 and carried out a search, taking away his phone, tablet and laptop.  He was detained on 5 September 2023, and held overnight in a police holding unit, with the ‘investigators’ trying to get him remanded in custody.  It was an Oryol court that, at least, rejected the application for his detention, ordering house arrest, but with permission to attend school.  Due to the extraordinary charges, he was added to Russia’s notorious ‘List of Terrorists and Extremists’ on 20 November 2023.

The prosecution claimed that from April to June 2023, Arseny, then just 14, had “systematically looked at material about the activities of opposition political figures opposing the actions of the Russian state authorities” and Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine*, including material posted by the Free Russia Legion.  This, it was alleged, had led to his “forming radical extremist political views, corresponding to the ideology of the Free Russia Legion.”

The prosecution further asserted that Arseny had learned about the procedure for joining the Legion, with this involving filling in a questionnaire and then going to Ukraine or supporting the Legion from Russian territory “expressed by posting leaflets and carrying out acts of sabotage on military and railway sites.”

Memorial points out that there is nothing in the case material to suggest that Arseny had any specific plans to go to Ukraine or to support the Legion in any way, let alone by carrying out supposed “acts of sabotage on military and railway sites”.

The prosecution’s case is full of claims about actions that had purportedly taken place at a time, with a person, etc. “not established by the investigators”.  Arseny is supposed to have begun corresponding on line with and told an unidentified individual that he wishes to join the Legion and “carry out actions of a terrorist nature for the Legion”.  He purportedly filled in the questionnaire and sent it off to this unidentified individual.

The 14-year-old lad is alleged to have, from 6-19 June 2023 found on the Internet a leaflet criticising Putin, and to have printed at least 100 copies, with all this supposedly “carrying out his obligations as a member of the Free Russia Legion’.  These leaflets were placed into people’s letterboxes in the city of Livny from 19-24 June 2023.  He purportedly videoed his actions and posted this on a channel that he created under the name ‘Free Russia’, with the critical material from his channel also part of the indictment.

Arseny Turbin has rejected the charges.  He says that he had not tried to join the Legion and that he circulated leaflets, following his own beliefs, and not, as the prosecution claimed, following anybody’s orders.

There is no evidence that Arseny joined the Legion (even if one assumes that a 15-year-old would be allowed to join).  Memorial has found nothing in the case material indicating any terrorist activities or plans to commit such.  In all of this, the only proven element is that a young lad circulated leaflets downloaded from the Internet with criticism of Putin

There is correspondence between the lad, who was still 14 at the time (1 June 2023) and a person using the email [email protected]  Arseny writes that wants to get to the Legion and asks what he should do.  He is asked which city he is from, what he does and what he is ready to do.  His answer is as follows: “I’m from Livny, Orlov oblast, I’m ready to post leaflets and fight Putin’s propaganda.  I also have an idea for freeing Russia from Putin.”

In response to this sentence, which says nothing about him being a 14-year-old schoolboy, he is asked to fill in the form and to give an address on Telegram or WhatsApp for further contact.  Such a form would doubtless ask the person’s age and occupation.   

There is, in fact, no proof that Arseny sent such a questionnaire, with the prosecution claiming that he did, but “through a means not established by the investigators.”   Memorial stresses that, even had it been proven that Arseny had tried to join the Legion, there would still be no crime in this, as there were no grounds for Russia’s labelling the Legion a ‘terrorist organization’.

On the basis (or lack of basis) of the above, the ‘investigator on particularly important cases of the Oryol Regional Investigative Committee Iryna Aleksandrovna Simonova tried to get the 15-year-old Arseny placed in detention back in August 2023 and claimed that he had ‘taken part in a terrorist organization’.  This nonsense was then presented to the ‘court’ by prosecutor Ye. B. Mayorov.  The ‘trial’ took place at the Second Western District Military Court with ‘judge’ Oleg Aleksandrovich Shishov sentencing the lad to five years’ imprisonment in an (in name alone) ‘educational prison colony’. 

*   The indictment uses Russia’s euphemistic ‘special military operation’

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