My Husband is Free!

June 6, 2013
Aleksei Kozlov. Source: Mikhail Metzel/Associated Press

[In 2008, Moscow businessman Aleksei Kozlov was arrested on fraud charges. His wife, Olga Romanova, a veteran financial journalist, investigated his case and debunked the evidence against him. The Russian Supreme Court overturned Moscow City Court’s conviction, but Kozlov was simply put on trial again for the same charges. On May 31st, City Court found that one of the charges against him was unfounded and decided to let him out of jail for time served. Both Kozlov and Romanova have been transformed into icons of the Russian anti-corruption movement. Here, Romanova announces the release of her husband, whom she quotes at length about the conditions of his confinement and how he got the news of his freedom. –ed.]

My husband and I just got out of jail, and I still can’t believe it. I just ask him to tell how it was – that release.

I’d even call it a fight for release, and that wouldn’t be an exaggeration. I was reporting everything that was going on around the prison, and I will repeat: that was a full-blown special operation with participation of all the security services of Ivanovo Region, using all kinds of special means, including one armored vehicle. That was on the outside. Let him tell you what was going on inside.

“The first person who told me that my prison term had ended 5 months before was neither my lawyer, Alkhas Abgadjava, nor my wife. I got that news from one of the supervisors of the penal settlement, who had watched the trial online. They knew everything. And it was obvious to them that I had to be released immediately. I discussed the details of how it could be arranged with the chief of the unit that prepares release documents. She confirmed that there had been precedents in the Ivanovo Region, when a person who was to be released immediately, would be released based on a faxed copy of a court decision, certified by a prosecutor and accompanied by an order from the Prosecutor’s Office. But the burden of getting and submitting all those documents would be on the penitentiary system, not on the relatives of the person to be released.

That’s why I didn’t expect from that system any specific moves to immediately execute the ruling of the court. Especially considering that back on May 31, the Moscow City Court had sent that ruling to the prison authorities via fax, as my attorney informed me. At first the prison administration confirmed the receipt of that document, but the very next day, when my wife came over there to demand that they released me immediately, it turned out that the penal settlement administration had indeed received the court’s verdict, however something had happened with the disposition part, that allegedly had never came through. It wasn’t immediately clear, though, why the penal hadn’t clarified that issue by getting in touch with the Moscow City Court.

On Saturday officials from the UFSIN (the Department of Corrections) arrived at the penal settlement. I was told that I would be released as soon as the correctional facility receives the document that had been sent via regular mail, that they would not try to find out what happened or get in touch with anyone, and whatever was officially published on the court’s website and by the media was nothing more than some kind of hearsay. The very next day Lieutenant Colonel Truskhov, the Chief Operations Officer of the UFSIN, made his department position more clear and specific: “If your wife wrote some good things about our system, and not what she writes about us, you’d be a free man long ago.” So I realized that what the Department was doing was some kind of retaliation against me and my wife, for our active position. My wife and I filed a complaint with the Prosecutor’s Office.

On Monday my attorney received a certified copy of the decision by the Moscow City Court and the same day was on his way to Ivanovo. Nevertheless, they were not in a hurry to release me. The UFSIN asked for a power-of-attorney letter from the Moscow City Court certifying that the attorney is authorized to deliver documents, signed and certified by the court, directly to a correctional facility. They even denied my attorney access to the facility, so he couldn’t meet with me. After that I had to go on a hunger strike, having notified the administration in writing. The correctional officers didn’t believe me and started to ask other inmates whether I was taking food and water. They confirmed, that I really gave away all my food. Soon after that an inspector from the Prosecutor’s Office arrived. By law they must inspect a facility in case of a hunger strike. He asked me what the reason for my hunger strike was. I explained the situation in detail. In fact, he already knew, because before he came he’d met with my attorney. This official told me what really mattered: that according to the law I would be released the same day, and he would not leave the facility, until he makes sure it’s done. So, all they had to do was to complete some formal procedures.

I am totally convinced that the UFSIN department for the Ivanovo Region tried to make sure they released me on their own terms and conditions, according to their own rules, disregarding the law, just to show to everybody else, that if they could break Romanova and Kozlov, they would simply pulverize anybody else. That’s why my release was good news not only for me, but it also gave hope to many inmates, persecuted by the UFSIN. Just before my release the guys asked me to keep telling everybody about what I saw there, because for obvious reasons they are not able to do that. They all hope that the law would work and be fair to them as well.

… I am very pessimistic when it comes to such hopes. During those four days that all of us, a group of very qualified individuals, tried to make sure that the court ruling is enforced, we found out from the local authorities, that:

  • decisions by Moscow City courts do not apply in the Ivanovo Region (that’s what the police told us);
  • the Prosecutor’s Office has 30 days to act upon our complaint about unlawful imprisonment and to reply in writing;
  • the management of UFSIN is not subject to the laws of the Russian Federation and is not aware of such laws.

Of course, being pessimistic doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do something. And it’s not over. In any case, we got something already. The Chief of the Ivanovo Region UFSIN said on camera: “Yes, I am a criminal.” Now all we have to do is to make sure that he says that not with pride and impunity, but with at least a shade of remorse.