‘He Would Check My Pulse by Touching My Neck and Monitor My Condition.’ Arrested Penza Antifascists Talk about Electric Shock Torture in Remand Prison Basement. (CW: graphic description of torture)
In October 2017, the FSB detained four antifascists in Penza in western Russia: Yegor Zorin, Ilya Shakursky, Vasily Kuksov, and Dmitry Pchelintsev. In early November, they detained Andrei Chernov in Penza, and Arman Sagynbayev, who was in Petersburg at the time. All six young men have been accused of involvement in a “terrorist community” (a criminal offence under Article 205.4 Part 2 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code). According to the FSB, the six had established an organization, known as the Network (Set). They planned a series of bomb blasts during the presidential election in March, and the World Cup in June and July that would ‘sway the popular masses in order to subsequently destabilize the political situation [in Russia]’ and set off an armed insurrection.
The Network allegedly had cells functioning in Moscow, Petersburg, Penza, and Belarus. On January 23, 2018, antifascist Viktor Filinkov was detained in Petersburg, followed two days later by Igor Shishkin. Friends and family could not find either of them for over a day. A court had remanded both of them in custody as members of the alleged “terrorist community.”
In Penza, relatives of the detained activists told how law enforcement officers had planted weapons in the men’s cars and flats, and subjected them to torture with electrical wires and hanging them upside down. According to friends and loved ones, all the detained men had been airsoft enthusiasts.
‘All they ever did was learn how to render first aid in field conditions and survive in the woods. Is that illegal?’ Angelina Pchelintseva, Dmitry Pchelintsev’s wife, asked OVD Info.
Initially, all the men in custody, except Kuksov, who invoked his right not to incriminate himself, as stipulated by Article 51 of the Russian Constitution, confessed to their alleged crimes.
After he was detained, Viktor Filinkov said that siloviki had tortured him with an electric shocker and forced him to memorize the wording of his testimony in order to repeat it later to investigators. Ilya Kapustin, interrogated as a witness in the case, also spoke of torture. FSB officers had shocked him with an electric shocker and threatened to break his legs and abandon him in the woods.
Igor Shishkin has not said anything about torture. The case file contains a letter written by Shishkin after he was detained. It is addressed to Alexander Rodionov, head of the FSB’s Petersburg Office. In the letter, Shishkin explains he received all his injuries while playing sports. Doctors confirmed Shishkin suffered a fracture to the lower wall of one eye socket, as well as numerous bruises and abrasions. Members of the Public Monitoring Commission on Conditions in Places of Imprisonment who visited Shishkin in a remand prison made note of numerous traces on his body of what looked like burns from electrical wires. Recently, Shishkin sent a petition to the authorities asking to cooperate with the investigation and requesting a pretrial agreement.
‘He Said, ‘I Couldn’t Take It. I Broke Down.’
Attorney Anatoly Vahterov, Ilya Shakursky’s defense counsel visited him in Penza Remand Prison No. 1 on February 7, 2018., has written the following:
It follows from my client’s statement that he was one of six people simultaneously detained on suspicion of violating Article 205.4 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code. The article refers literally to “organization of a terrorist community.” During my conversation with my client, I did not have the slightest doubt he had not been involved in these actions.
I said to him, ‘I know that you signed a confession. How could that be?’
He wrote a note to me, ‘I was beaten.’
Later, he gave me a more detailed account of how he had been tortured in the remand prison.
He said the plan was to implicate them in the Maltsev case. I was surprised. What was the connection? In my view, this case was fabricated on formal grounds. They grabbed one comrade by the name of Zorin. He was the weakest of them and testified against all his friends. Moreover, his testimony is absolutely far-fetched. It was grounds for detaining the other guys on suspicion of having committed the particular crime.
This is where it gets interesting. According to my client, all of them were tortured in the basement of the remand prison. The torture was sophisticated. Officers in masks and camouflage uniforms would enter their cells. They took them to a room in the basement, forced them to strip, attached electrodes to their fingertips, and cranked up a so-called dynamo.
He just said, ‘I couldn’t take it. I broke down.’
Torture was also used against Pchelintsev, according to my client. They talk to each other in the remand prison. Sagynbayev has also been tortured. This is savagery, you realize? As if the year now were 1937.
There can be no question of any terrorist activity whatsoever. (…) The guys only played role-playing games. They were into airsoft and running round the woods. Yes, the guys gave each other nicknames. It was just easier for them to address each other that way. None of this is anything other than child’s play. Yes, there were nicknames, yes, there were assigned roles. Why not? We played war when we were kids. We also pretended to be medics, sappers, and snipers. Each had a role to play. There were role-playing games and nothing more.
The had their own group and their own music. They were involved in the antifascist movement and environmentalism. (…)
Ilya Shakursky is a totally sensible, regular guy. I would say he is the salt of the Russian earth. He’s a normal, genuine, good Russian lad, raised in our society’s best traditions. He is not a criminal, that is for sure. But when he speaks, you can see the pain and resentment on his face. It happens. But he is hanging in there and hoping for a good defense. His mother was immediately fired from her job when the first articles about Pchelintsev and so on were published. (…)
In order to justify what I regard as groundless detentions, criminal charges, and remands in police custody, the men were accused of committing another crime, possession of weapons and explosives, Article 222 in the Criminal Code. Law enforcement planted two grenades and a pistol under the back seat of Shakursky’s car. If he and his friends were such conspirators, he would not have done something as amateurish as leaving two grenades in his car.
Ilya Shakursky’s Letter to His Girlfriend
We now find ourselves in circumstances in which we miss these people like never before. They fought injustice and helped people who were in very difficult situations in life. I sincerely hope that with the help of friends, loved ones, and concerned citizens we can get out of this pickle, which is one enormous misunderstanding and injustice.
Goodness will triumph!
All my acquaintances and friends should see this text.
‘My Mouth Was Full of Blood, and One of the Torturers Stuck My Sock in It’
On February 6, 2018, attorney Oleg Zaitsev visited Dmitry Pchelintsev and interviewed him. Like most of the defense attorneys in the case, the investigator made Zaitsev sign a non-disclosure agreement concerning evidence in the preliminary investigation. Zaitsev notes that, under the circumstances, he has not violated investigatory privileges, but nevertheless he felt obliged to discuss all the violations of rights his client has suffered. What follows is a transcript of his interview with Pchelintsev.
I can say the following. On October 27, 2017, I left the house at around six o’clock in the morning to meet my grandmother. Near the end wall of the building, as I was nearing my car, four men in plain clothes suddenly approached me. I was so surprised I put my hands up in front of me. These men immediately beat me up and threw me on the ground. Their faces were not covered. I could identify them. Later, some of them escorted me from the remand prison to the FSB office. One of them looked around thirty-five years old. He had light-brown hair, was wearing a gray jacket, and had a stout face and thickset build. They asked me my surname and struck various parts of my body. They reproached me for having putting up my dukes when I was being detained by the FSB. They confiscated the keys to my flat and used them to enter the place when my girlfriend was sleeping and search the place.
On October 28, 2017, after the court had remanded me in custody to the remand prison on Karakozov Street, I was in cell 5-1. It was around four o’clock in the afternoon when a special forces policeman, the senior shift officer, and a major from the local office of the Russian Federal Penitentiary Service entered my cell. They told me to exit the cell and go to the nearby punishment cell, which I did. Six or seven men immediately entered the cell. Half of them were in MultiCam camouflage uniforms, while the other half were in plain clothes. But all of them wore balaclavas. Despite the headgear concealing their faces, I could identify some of these people by their voices, physique, and clothes. Subsequently, I recognized some of them when I was being transported and escorted.
They told me what to do, and I followed their orders. I stripped to my shorts, sat down on a bench, stretched my arms backwards, and put my head down. At first, I thought this was some examination everyone sent to the remand prison had to undergo, so I voluntarily submitted to it. Then they taped my hands behind me, tied one of my legs to the foot of the bench with more tape, and stuck a wad of gauze in my mouth.
One of the men was wearing white rubber medical gloves. He took out a dynamo and set it on a table. He stripped two wires with a boxcutter and told me to stick out my big toe. Another man checked my pulse by touching my neck. He would subsequently do this more than once: he was monitoring my condition. He was surprised my pulse was normal and I was not agitated. That was because I did not realize at first what was happening.
Then the man in gloves cranked the dynamo. The current flowed to my knees. My calf muscles contracted, and I was seized by paralytic pain. I screamed. My back and head convulsed against the wall. They put a jacket between my naked body and the stone wall. This went on for about ten seconds, but when it was happening, it felt like an eternity to me.
One of them spoke to me.
‘I don’t know the word ‘no.’ I don’t remember it. You should forget it. You got me?’ he said literally.
‘Yes,’ I replied.
‘That’s the right answer’ he said.
The gauze was stuck in my mouth again, and I was shocked four times, three seconds each time. […] Then I was tossed onto the floor. Since one of my legs was tied to the foot of the bench, when I fell, I seriously banged up my knees, which bled profusely. My shorts were pulled off. I was lying on my stomach. They tried to attach the wires to my genitals. I screamed and asked them to stop brutalizing me.
‘You’re the leader,’ they repeated.
‘Yes, I’m the leader,’ I said to make them stop torturing me.
‘You planned terrorist attacks.’
‘Yes, we planned terrorist attacks,’ I would reply.
One of the men who measured my pulse put his balaclava on me so I would not see them. At one point, I lost consciousness for a while. […] After they left, a Federal Penitentiary Service officer entered the room and told me to get dressed. He took me back to my solitary confinement cell.
The next day, October 20, 2018, I broke the tank on the toilet and used the shards to slash my arms at the wrists and elbows, and my neck in order to stop the torture. There was a lot of blood from the cuts on my clothes and the floor, and I collapsed onto the floor. They probably saw what I did via the CCTV camera installed in the cell. Prison staffers entered my cell and gave me first aid. Then the prison’s psychologist, Vera Vladimirovna, paid me a visit.
In regards the video cameras installed in my cell, as well as in the punishment cell and the corridor, I can say that when FSB officers show up, the cameras either are turned off or the recording is later erased, or something is done with the sensors. The FSB officers completely control the local Federal Penitentiary Service officers.
On November 8, 2017, at around five o’clock in the afternoon, the senior shift officer was getting ready to leave.
‘Will everything be alright with me?’ I asked him.
‘Don’t worry, I’ll be right back,’ he replied.
I had connected his departure with the fact that the last time he left, the day before, Saginbayev’s scream was audible on the floor. I realized he was being tortured. Later, our paths crossed, and he apologized for testifying against me.
A lieutenant from the Federal Penitentiary Service then came to my door.
‘Am I safe here?’, wrote on a piece of paper that I showed to him.
‘Yes,’ he replied in big letters.
After that I showed him the enormous bruise on my chest and stomach to let him know I had been tortured. After awhile he opened the cell door, and four men wearing prisoner’s uniforms dashed into the cell. Civilian clothes were visible under these uniforms, all of which were baggy. They were all wearing what looked like masks, black tube scarves.
They beat and kicked me in the stomach, kidneys, and head. I had bruises from their blows, but they hit me like in a gym, so they would leave fewer visible traces. They informed me they were from the ‘underworld committee’: because of me they had been put on lockdown. They gave me a week to solve my problems with the ‘pigs.’ If I didn’t solve them, they would punk me. One of them filmed the whole thing on a smartphone. The Federal Penitentiary Service officer was outside in the hallway the entire time. The four FSB guys from the ‘underworld committee’ left. Later, I also recognized some of them when I was being escorted and transported.
Then the senior shift officer, a captain, returned.
‘How can I believe you when FSB guys just came into my cell and beat me up?’ I asked him.
He looked puzzled.
Afterwards, FSB agents have visited me many times in the remand prison. They wear no masks and chat with me in the visiting room. When they talk with me, they exert psychological pressure on me. They threaten, blackmail, and manipulate me.
During an interrogation, the investigator told me it was he who gave the agents permission to visit me. They took their orders from him and they had their own work.
After I tried to commit suicide by slashing my veins open, I was put under special watch in the remand prison. The cuffs are not removed from my hands even when I am signing interrogation reports.
I want to add that, when I was tortured with electrical shocks, my mouth was full of ‘crushed teeth’ due to the fact I gritted my teeth since the pain was strong, and I tore the frenulum of my tongue. My mouth was full of blood, and at some point one of my torturers stuck my sock in my mouth.
I was beaten so badly I had open wounds on my head.
According to Republic, which has seen the case file, the FSB has named Pchelintsev as the organizer of the Network terrorist group. He met his accomplices at concerts and allegedly founded the organization in 2014. According to the FSB, since 2015, every member of the Network has had his own role. Investigators believe Pchelintsev is the Network’s leader and ideologue. He has a deputy, nicknamed Redhead, who recruits new members.
The case files indicate that, in the summer of 2016, several cells joined the Network. The Penza cell was dubbed 5.11 (November Fifth) or Sunrise; the Moscow cell, MSK (Moscow Standard Time); and the two Petersburg cells, Field of Mars and Jordan. In addition, investigators believe the Network has a branch in Belarus as well, and that the cells were managed out of Penza. The FSB refers to all the detainees as anarchists.
Anna Kozkina and Yegor Skovoroda
via Avtonom, edited by Freedom News
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