Today: Thursday, 22 February 2024 year

Clear out Russia from police lawlessness

Clear out Russia from police lawlessness

Practically, there are very few people in Russia who feel safe being in the vicinity to policemen. The threat is always looming over the heads of people, even over those who have nothing to be punished for. Why do ordinary citizens experience such feelings towards police authorities whose primary role is to protect the rights of the population? Andrei Kuznetsov, a founder of an anonymous bar community and a creator of a mobile application for the defense against police lawlessness, a man who personally has suffered from it, will help us to understand this issue. 

In Russia, you might go out for bread and all of a sudden find yourself guilty of wrong doings, for example, under article 228 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (drug possession). In June, the entire public rose up in defense for journalist Ivan Golunov, who had been arrested on the street, planted drugs in his backpack and accused of drug trafficking. It was exactly this high-profile case that had huge public resonance: in social networks people started telling personal stories about similar cases of “plantings”, the media reviewed the statistics of illegally convicted people under 228 article. This article is reputed to be “traditionally popular” in Russia, because it is namely the article under which 92,558 people have been lately imprisoned. Few people went to prison for a real crime, most of the cases were simply fabricated. Someone became a “unit” for a good report of the investigator, others paid the price for their too active civil position. If there is an  act of detention, the most important thing is to inform someone about it, and to do this is the main problem. The longer you stay without the assistance of a lawyer, the greater the risk of you being pleaded guilty. 

Andrei Kuznetsov: If you are detained, you are often prevented from contacts with your relatives and a lawyer to start the process of defense. In the story of Ivan Golunov the whole problem was that for 15 hours he was not allowed to use the phone, and during this time the authorities “neatly” filed up the case. Our button allows you to report a detention in 10 seconds. The application immediately identifies the nearest police department by your geolocation, and our operators contact your representatives and lawyer. 

“SLON” started its activity as a small telegram-chat in which everyone could get free legal advice. Now it is a legal association with specialists in 7 regions of Russia, which immediately activates your defense through the “SLON Alarm button “. 

The application works very simply: 

– download it from the App store or Google play;

– enter your details;

– if detained, press the red button.  

The service is absolutely free of charge. If you have your own lawyer, the application operator will establish connection between him/her and the “SLON” service and in case of detention he/she, as well as your relatives and any other persons specified by you in the application will get a signal. 

In a situation that you need a lawyer, the operators contact your guarantor for contract arrangements. 

The data is stored exclusively on your phone and is transmitted to the server only when the emergency button is pressed. This is how the app’s users’ personal data is protected. 

This project involves the protection not only of illegally detained citizens, but also of those who are really guilty. In Russia, propaganda of “absolute guilt” is carried out – if a person commits a crime, the police and society spell an end to his/her life, even if the crime is not related to cruelty, but, for example, to drugs. Crimes under article 228 refer to moderate and severe degree of penal value, so the more disclosures of such cases, the faster the career growth for a policeman will be. 

Andrei Kuznetsov: I am familiar with a case where a person was convicted absolutely unlawfully, and it was that rare precedent when his innocence was proved and the judge was even removed from the position. But nevertheless, after that they put another case on him. It turned out later that this person while being held in custody had been badly beaten up by another man planted to his cell so that the guy would finally take the blame under another article. It is clear that it was necessary for the prosecutor’s office to get rid of “unresolved” cases; that was the way how they “solved” their professional problem. So nobody is interested in his truth in court because of drug addiction. The position is based upon opinions, such as follows: “what a heroin addict might have dreamed of in a delirium state of mind? – Most probably, of nothing coherent”. People in our country who use psychoactive and mind-altering substances are more vulnerable than anyone else: they can be accused of anything in the world.

“If you don’t stop – you’re done”

Unfortunately, most people lose contact with old friends in detention, and even relatives often turn away from prisoners. It is almost impossible to find a prestigious job after being released from jail. 

In addition to its legal work, SLON is also fighting against the isolation of former prisoners from the society. The project provides an opportunity to learn programming on Android, Java and IOS for ex-imprisonned people. Anyone who wants to start a new life after prison can contact Andrei in Telegram (@adrium) and get free access to the courses.

It is well known that such initiatives as the “SLON alarm button” project are not welcomed in Russia at all. Andrei told us about how police officers had chased him and his family. In an extremely provocative manner they insisted on abortion of his project and demanded to terminate the work of the application under threat of death. 

Andrei Kuznetsov: In October 2018, I started receiving phone calls at two-week intervals. At first, they kept silent, and then step by step they started threatening me with the texts from the series: “If you don’t stop, you’re dead”. After that they figured out the apartment we lived in, hung a picture of a decapitated elephant on the door, and after a while similar leaflets were left on the car. Nevertheless, I didn’t stop the work of the application. The persecution continued. Once, when my mother-in-law Olga Nagorianskaia was returning home in the evening, an unknown person followed her to the elevator and attacked her. He inflicted serious mental and physical damage to her: fright and many bruises. She was later attacked again. My wife Zlata Velikaia was also assaulted. After these incidents, we started randomly renting apartments, changing the area we lived in every month. The first thing I needed to do was to protect my little son and wife. These six months of “hide-and-seek” were such a stress!

We verified all the facts of persecution in our reports to the police. The evidence of the attacks was fixed in photos accompanied by official medical notes. Phone threats were also reported, but there was no response. No response followed to complaints to the Prosecutor’s Office, the Internal Affairs Department and the City Court.

But the idea of leaving the country for our safety reasons came to me later.

 This spring, I visited my hometown Pyatigorsk. Suddenly, at one of bus stops the policemen came up to me and without any explanation asked me to go with them to the police station. They demanded that I should unlock my laptop, but, of course, I refused, and for that reason I spent several hours in a cell. Apparently, they tried to hack into the computer while I was under arrest, but they failed, so I was released. That’s when I clearly realized that the persecution wasn’t over, and the only way to keep my family safe is to change my place of residence. For every act of lawlessness we filed a case to the prosecutor’s office: and all of them were denied.

For the last month, police harassment has been going on in Moscow every weekend. People protest peacefully for fair elections to the Moscow City Duma, but members of the internal security forces detain people for no reason, keep them in police stations for days and beat them. 

He’ll be fucked up if SLON’s lawyers try to interfere!”

With weekly protests in Moscow, the “Alarm Button” was adapted to help the protestors. All the necessary information is delivered to the human rights organisation “OVD-info”, which starts the process of defence for the illegally accused.

But at this point problems of the detainee do not come to an end. Often lawyers are simply not allowed into the territory of the police station and are not allowed to carry out protective activity. In Russia, this happens not only in situations of protest actions. 

Andrei Kuznetsov: The application has a database of independent lawyers, who we connect to your defense. This fall we had a case in Petrozavodsk, when the investigation did not allow our lawyers to connect with the defendant. 

Our client, let’s call him Misha, was detained under the notorious 228 article of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation. He had no connection with his relatives, the phone was confiscated immediately, and not a single call was allowed to be made. Free attorneys were instantly invited to him, who in the conditions of modern Russia are nothing more than tools of a formal execution of the procedural code. But long before his detention Misha asked his wife in advance to invite our lawyer’s association “SLON”, if he was to be prosecuted. 

Specialists from “SLON”, still at the stage of arrangement for visiting, heard on the phone from Deputy Head of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Petrozavodsk Aleksandr Sergeevich Sutyakov that nobody would have access to the prisoner and “no lawyers are needed here”. On the same day, inspector Yevhenia Valeryevna Zelenina called our client’s wife and said that “he will be fucked if lawyers from SLON show up here!” 

As it turned out later, at the meeting of the lawyers with the local head of the Investigative Committee, Artem Sergeevich Zakharov, they were under surveillance – were shown photos of their exit from the airport, boarding a taxi to the hotel, rooms from the inside, also there was provided a calls printout. At all costs the investigation prevented the lawyers from getting access to the case, threatening both of them and the wife of the defendant.

As a result, the investigation submitted a written refusal of Misha to cooperate with a lawyer from “SLON”. I am sure that he was subjected to physical violence and refused our help under pressure.

We see with our own eyes the arbitrariness of the police, the authorities and the judges. Right now we are investigating the case of 11 arrested protesters in Moscow, who may be sentenced up to 8 years in prison for their participation in peaceful marches on 27.07 and 3.08. The arrest of each of them is illegal. They are accused of “organizing mass riots”, “gestures to the right”, “attempts to kill policemen” and other things unrelated to reality. 

Ilya Yashin and Dmitry Gudkov, independent candidates to the Moscow City Duma, are still under arrest, and Olga Sobol was detained in advance of every peaceful protest action. 

Human rights organizations, under the conditions of police brutality, find it difficult to carry out their activities, but they continue to help the illegally detained citizens.

After 6 months of persecution, the creator of the SLON project, Andrei, seeks political asylum in the United States to ensure the safety of his family. But he does not stop his activities.