You may not be an anti-fascist, but…

In January, anti-fascists are remembered in Russia as marches are held in memory of Anastasia Baburova and Stanislav Markelov, who were killed in 2009. Only the Moscow march was approved; in Saint Petersburg, anti-fascists have been remembered for years without approval from the authorities. Instead, city authorities chose to draw attention to anti-fascists in another way: by arresting them on charges of intention to raise an armed rebellion one year ago, and then, this January, by issuing the first sentence in this case.

On the eve of the anniversary of the death of Stas Markelov, an attorney representing members of the Antifa movement, a military court handed down a conviction in the case of Igor Shishkin, who pled guilty to participating in the Network terrorist association and testified against himself and many others. On the same day, the Saint Petersburg City Court once again extended the detention of Viktor Filinkov and Yuli Boyarshinov, who were charged in the same case.

Several days prior to this, pretrial restrictions were extended for their fellow defendants in Penza. Friends and family members of the arrested anti-fascists were pleased that the court hearings were open, which was a victory achieved by the defendants themselves and their attorneys. It was only in Shishkin’s case that the defense petitioned for a closed session because it feared “radical actions” on the part of people of have allegedly branded Shishkin a traitor for testifying against his friends. The court did not close the proceedings (members of the public were removed from the courtroom only when the court was reviewing medical documentation), which allowed journalists and other members of the public to learn about the details of arguments of the defendant and his attorney. The line of defense was extremely straightforward, which is what always happens when a case is considered under special procedure, that is, under the condition that the defendant pleads guilty and agrees not to dispute the indictment. In these cases, the only thing left to do is repent, ask the court to consider the assistance provided to the investigation, and point to an honorable past (positive characteristics) and, if possible, mitigating circumstances (family, health). In proceedings like this, there is no “equality of parties”; there are not, in fact, parties because both the defense and the prosecution agree on the main issue of guilt and are only interested in negotiating the sentence and because the court cannot exculpate a person who has incriminated themselves. A lesser punishment can be bought with submission to the prosecution in the matter of one’s own guilt and with testimony against others. Shishkin took this matter to its logical end, stating: “I am prepared to and will testify at the trials of other co-participants in the Network terrorist organization in Penza and Saint Petersburg that will soon take place. During the investigation, I exposed and helped establish the degree of guilt of each participant.”

Attorney Dinze also developed this position during the proceedings, noting that his client provided this testimony “honesty, voluntarily” and that Shishkin regretted not informing on his associates in time. Finally, Shishkin, who called himself an “honorable member of society,” confirmed that he was “previously remorseful” and that a year in prison had deepened this remorse.

It appeared that Shishkin’s honesty was called into doubt by the judge when Shishkin responded in the negative to a question about his prior criminal record. It turned out that he had been previously convicted of causing “serious bodily injury” in 2013 and that he had also been “prosecuted” several times before. Furthermore, the question of the “honest and voluntary nature” of his testimony has raised enormous doubt among the people closest to the Network case. The attorney of Pchelintsev, who was accused of creating the Network, noted his “diametrically opposed position,” stating: “The case has been fabricated, that much is clear, and we are going to fight so that our clients are found not guilty”.

Pchelintsev, like others accused in the Network case, spoke about the harsh torture used to make him confess. The beatings and torture with electric current of figures in this case arrested in Saint Petersburg became known through a report of the Public Monitoring Commission of Saint Petersburg. During his day in court on January 17, Viktor Filinkov, who reported that he had been tortured with a stun gun, wore a t-shirt bearing the inscription “Your stun gun will not electrocute our ideas” (Yuli Boyarshinov wore clothes with the same inscription on his day in court).

The question of whether Shishkin had been tortured or not gave rise to fierce discussion, especially after Dinze wrote the following after the proceedings:

“Members of the Public Monitoring Commission, under the probable pressure of a well-known human rights organization (that does not specialize in torture), attempted, without the approval of the defense attorney or of Shishkin himself, to move forward with a statement about the use of torture against Shishkin”

Dinze spoke quite pointedly about accusations against human rights defenders and their attempts to influence Shishkin and even send someone to him: “And I warned him that someone might try to send an attorney from a powerful human rights organization working on uncovering cases of torture by FSB officers. In the end, members of the Public Monitoring Commission of Saint Petersburg came to him…”

The attorney did not respond to questions about the nature of the “powerful and well-known” human rights organization that sent its attorneys to the defendant to besmirch the KGB, and he refused to publicly explain himself or meet personally with the authors of the Commission’s report on torture in Saint Petersburg.

In fact, Shishkin’s attorney made it clear twice that this anti-fascist’s problems were not so much with the FSB as with some dangerous people who believed him to be a traitor (leading to the request to close the proceedings) and with “powerful and well-known” human rights defenders.

In response, some people accused Dinze of dirty tricks, while others fiercely defended him, arguing that an attorney’s job is to do everything possible to protect their client. A debate on professional ethics was sparked, including discussions on whether or not Dinze should have addressed statements to the other defendants and whether or not it was right of Dinze to support Shishkin’s likely self-incrimination and save his client using accusations against other figures in the case.

In my opinion, this story has nothing to do with professional ethics or the profession at all. It seems to me that anyone can make a judgement about what is acceptable in this story and what is not. Is it really that hard to tell who is dangerous and “powerful” in Russia? Is it the FSB or human rights defenders? Who is lying and why? Members of the Public Monitoring Commission who described signs of torture on the bodies of those arrested in spite of being harassed (they were trailed by NTV correspondents and their every move was shadowed)? Or an “honorable member of society” who decided to reduce his sentence by any means possible, to avoid disputing the investigation, and to deny the actual date of his detention (during Shishkin’s trial, there were obvious discrepancies between dates on the arrest reports, but the defendant pretended as though he himself could not recall when he was arrested)?

This brings to mind the story of one elderly Roma woman, who told us about police torture many years ago: she endured blows and hair-pulling and the agonizing pain of being forced to stand for hours, but when the investigator started to torture her with electricity, she became indignant: “I said right away, don’t get fresh with me!”

Stefania Kulayeva

First published in the blog of Radio Liberty