Electric shock is our way of doing things: investigation into Russian antifascist political prisoners

Between October 2017 and February 2018, the Russian security services
tortured several Russian anarchists and anti-fascists as part of an
investigation into alleged terrorism offences. As a result, eleven people in St
Petersburg and Penza have been arrested and charged in the “Network”
case. They are being detained awaiting trial in 2019. Those tortured have
spoken out about their treatment – Viktor Filinkov did so here, and others
did via the rupression website. This article by Tatyana Likhanova explains
the reaction by the Russian security services and other officials. It reports
on investigations into the defendants’ claims of torture by the Russian
Investigative Committee, the St Petersburg Public Monitoring Commission,
and the defendants’ lawyers. It was published in Novaya Gazeta, the main
liberal opposition newspaper, on 16 December 2018.

“Federal Security Service [FSB] officers don’t work in those minibuses.
They aren’t there. Physically.” This is how Russian president Vladimir Putin
reacted to a statement by Mikhail Fedotov, chairman of the Presidential
Council for Civil Society and Human Rights, that defendants in the
“Network” case claim they were subjected to electric shock torture in state
security service minibuses. But Putin admitted that what Fedotov had said
was “really disturbing” and “that it’s absolutely impermissible”, and
promised to “look into it”.

Let’s note straight away: only St Petersburg victims of the “Network” case
— Viktor Filinkov; Ilya Kapustin, who was questioned about the case as a
witness; and Arman Sagynbaev, who was transferred from St Petersburg to
Penza after arrest — have reported that they were tortured by the FSB in
minibuses. The men detained in Penza were tortured in an investigative
detention centre.

The St Petersburg FSB officers do not deny that they “work in buses” and
that they use electric shockers while doing so. Their explanations are in
documents compiled during an inquiry into Viktor Filinkov’s and Ilya
Kapustin’s statements by the Investigative Committee’s Western Military
District division.

According to statements by FSB officers K.A. Bondarev and S.E. Kotin,
they arrested Viktor Filinkov together with three other members of a
special FSB unit — one of whom “twice applied to V.S. Filinkov special
equipment — an electric shock baton (once in the area of the right thigh, once on the torso)”. This was done when Filinkov allegedly tried to escape
from a service vehicle, a Volkswagen Transporter. Then, “the driver broke
sharply, as a result of which V.S. Filinkov fell on the floor, cutting his face on
protruding plastic elements of the seating, from which he received an
abrasion on his chin.”

In his own statement, Viktor Filinkov said that while in the minibus he was
subject to “no less than ten blows from the palm of a hand, to the back of
the head; no less than 50 blows from an electric shocker in the areas of the
right thigh, the groin, the wrists and the neck; and no less than 20 punches
in the chest, back, back of the head and the left side of the face.”

The medical examination of Filinkov when he arrived at St Petersburg
Investigative Detention Centre No. 3 mentioned bruising, abrasions and
wounds to the top layer of skin, with a note reading “done with an electric
shocker?”.

Yekaterina Kosarevskaya and Yana Teplitskaya, members of the St
Petersburg Public Monitoring Commission (PMC), who visited Viktor
Filinkov in the detention centre three days after the events that have been
described, noted “a large number of traces of injuries caused by an electric
shocker across the whole surface of the right thigh, bruising to the right
ankle, and burns from an electric shocker around the rib cage”.

Kosarevskaya and Teplitskaya counted more than 30 pairs of bruise marks,
characteristic of the shock batons. Filinkov said that he was tortured in a
nine-seater blue Volkswagen Transporter, where he was placed by FSB
officers who detained him at St Petersburg Pulkovo airport. He was ferried
around and tortured for about five hours, during which he was forced to
learn and recite a confession.

Kosarevskaya and Teplitskaya inspected and questioned Filinkov in the
presence of a detention centre officer, in a cell equipped with a video
camera (the video camera was turned on). Yana and Yekaterina, as well as
Filinkov’s lawyer Vitaly Cherkasov, immediately lodged a statement
requiring that the video recordings be kept and included in the case file.
But they were destroyed — allegedly due to the expiry of the “specified
storage period”, as the directors of Investigative Detention Centre No. 3
said in the inquiry materials. This is despite the fact that the detention
centre supervisor confirmed in writing to PMC members that “there are no
rules covering the period for which video recordings are stored”.

The same thing happened with other video recordings — from CCTV at
Pulkovo airport and the police station where Filinkov was taken “to take fingerprints” — that could shed light on what happened from the moment
Filinkov was detained up until his arrival at the St Petersburg FSB building
on Shpalernaya Street. Filinkov’s bloodstained hat and trousers, which the
defence had also demanded were included in the investigation materials,
also disappeared.

Almost 30 hours “vanished”, too: the time between Filinkov’s actual arrest
and the time given by the investigating officers.

A statement by Vitaly Cherkasov, legal counsel for Viktor Filinkov, said: “In
a report by K.A. Bondarev, senior FSB criminal investigator for St
Petersburg and Leningrad oblast [province], there is an incorrect statement
that V.S. Filinkov was arrested on 24 January 2018 at 21.35 at 25
Shpalernaya Street. Neither this, nor the statement by senior investigator
G.A. Belyayev in the arrest report that suspect Filinkov was detained on 25
January 2018 at 00.15, correspond to the actual time at which he was
arrested.”

In addition, on Filinkov’s boarding pass, which is included in the
investigation materials, it is indicated that he checked in on the 20.45 flight
to Minsk from St Petersburg on 23 January 2018. The explanations of FSB
officers also state that they arrived at Pulkovo airport on 23 January, where
they suggested that Filinkov “delay his departure and participate in search
procedures”.

Based on Bondarev’s account of Filinkov’s “escape attempt”, the inquiry by
the military Investigative Committee established that “during the period
from 03:30 to 07:00 on 24/01/2018, on being brought to the investigative
service of St Petersburg and Leningrad Oblast [province] FSB Directorate
for investigation, V.S. Filinkov, while in an official minibus, attempted to
escape…”

Nonetheless, all these inconsistencies in the reported times did not
disconcert the investigators: the request to open a criminal investigation
based on Filinkov’s statement on being tortured was rejected.

An inspection based on Ilya Kapustin’s witness statement on torture
proceeded in a similar manner and with the same result. Kapustin also
apparently tried to escape from an official minibus and was also hurt when
the driver suddenly braked. In order to stop Kapustin escaping and avoid
“consequences related to a person falling out of a moving vehicle”, he was
also shocked a couple of times with an electric shocker. This was described
by FSB officers as an “operational necessity”.

Needless to say, there are no video recordings of these events: “On the
corner of Seventh Sovetskaya [Street] and Grecheskiy Avenue [where the
arrest took place], there are no CCTV cameras,” reads the official inquiry.

This begs the question: why did FSB investigator P.A. Prudnikov “working
in a five-person operational group” travel to this destination “with the aim
of establishing Kapustin’s location”? Why did they not wait closer to
Kapustin’s house? Could it be because on the ground floor of Kapustin’s
apartment block there is a cafe, and across the road there is a bank and an
expensive electronics shop? There’s no shortage of CCTV cameras there.

The inquiry did not investigate what happened in the three-and-a-half
hours after the moment of arrest (21:30) to the beginning of the
interrogation at the FSB building (01:00 the next day). The inquiry did not
question specialists at the Bureau of Forensic Medicine [a regulatory
agency, part of the state health care system], who examined Kapustin and
attested that he suffered bruising to the top eyelid of his right eye, and to
the areas around both shoulders and knee joints, and also no less than 80
abrasions on the upper limbs, belly, around the right hip joint and right
buttock, and the genitals. The experts’ statement concluded that the
abrasions “could have resulted from the usage of an electric shock device,
which is confirmed by their morphological features: mainly rounded or
oval shapes; their sizes; the presence of hyperaemia (redness) at the edges
of the abrasions and reddish, swollen ‘undermined’ edges.

At the meeting with Vladimir Putin, Mikhail Fedotov recounted how he,
together with Evgeny Myslovsky, a colleague from the Presidential Council
on Human Rights, spoke to the management of the regional military
Investigative Committee — but “they couldn’t answer a single question”.
Myslovsky, who worked for 25 years as a senior major case investigator
attached to the RSFSR Prosecutor’s Office, evaluated the quality of the
inquiry into Filinkov and Kapustin’s account of torture in a blog post on the
website of the Council on Human Rights:

“…the inquiry was conducted with deliberate carelessness. The following
remained outside the scope of the inquiry: the basis for conducting the FSB
investigative actions; the identities of the special forces officers who used
the special methods [of restraint]; the identities of the minibus drivers; and
the routes that were used. The minibus itself was not examined to
determine whether an ‘escape attempt’ was possible or the risk of injury
whilst falling as a result of sudden braking. Even without examining the
torture itself, it can be concluded that there were gross violations of the
Russian Criminal Procedural Code during the initial operational search
activities in both cases, which is indicative of either an extremely low levelof legal preparation of the investigators in the St Petersburg FSB or of an intentional disregard for current legislation.”

Evgeny Myslovsky also referred to information about other defendants in
the “Network” case having been tortured. Arman Saginbayev was tortured
during a search of his St Petersburg flat and in a car whilst being
transported to Penza. In Penza, defendants Ilya Shakursky and Dmitry
Pchelintsev made statements that they had been subject to torture.

After Vladimir Putin promised to “look into” what happened,
the parents of the defendants in the “Network” case have made a new
appeal to the Russian president. This appeal notes that existing forensic
methods allow for it to be established whether or not torture by electric
shock was used even after a very long time. In Penza, the defendants’ legal
counsel applied for this kind of examination to be carried out, but Penza
garrison court refused to approve this request.

Tatyana Likhanova


A group of activists centred in London have organised a crowdfunding campaign to help raise funds for legal costs, organizing humanitarian support for the arrested and offering support to their relatives. You can donate here.