French Prosecutor Says Russian Hooligans Behind Soccer Violence; Russia Should Be Expelled, Says FSF

June 13, 2016
Russian fans attack an English supporter. Photo by AP

LIVE UPDATES: A French prosecutor says Russian hooligans were behind the violent clashes between English and Russian soccer fans in Marseilles on June 10

Welcome to our column, Russia Update, where we will be closely following day-to-day developments in Russia, including the Russian government’s foreign and domestic policies.

The previous issue is here.

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Film Claiming to Refute Evidence in Magnitsky’s Murder to Show at Newseum; Others Debunk Claims

A film questioning the testimony of supporters of Russian whistleblower Sergei Magnitsky will show today at the Newseum’s Knight Center despite controversy that saw showings cancelled in Europe, Buzzfeed reported.
Magnitsky’s widow and mother have protested that the film defames him and urged that the film not be shown. But the Newseum, which is devoted to promoting press freedom and protecting journalists, has said that in the interests of free speech, the screening must continue.
The movie was made by Russian filmmaker Andrei Nekrasov who had in the past released films on such subjects as the apartment bombings in Moscow in 1999, which led many to see him as a critic of the Putin regime.
Nekrasov has said that while making a documentary on Magnitsky, he came to doubt the materials provided by Russian human rights activists and William Browder, CEO of Hermitage Capital, where Magnitsky worked, who has been the chief campaigner for justice for his colleague.
Nekrasov claims in the film that Magnitsky was not beaten in prison, that conditions were not so terrible and that he had not given testimony about the theft of $230 million.
All of these claims have been debunked in a press release and a power-point presentation today by Browder, in which he cites the official forensic report of Magnitsky’s death describing a blunt trauma injury; testimony of medical personnel about the likelihood of his beating; and the report of the presidential human rights council and prison monitors.
As Michael Weiss, senior editor at The Daily Beast and editor-in-chief at The Interpreter, has written, the film’s purpose appears to be to sow doubts in supporters’ mind at a time when the Global Magnitsky Act is coming up for vote in the US and similar measures were being contemplated in other countries. A draft law to sanction those involved in Magnitsky’s Act recently stalled in Canada.
Natalia Veselnitskaya, a Russian lawyer, has been behind some of the promotion of Nekrasov’s film. She is an attorney for Prevezon, a Cyprus-registered firm where some of the money stolen from Hermitage’s tax return was stashed and was confiscated by the US Department of Justice. A court case involving Prevezon is underway now in New York City. Veselnitskaya formed a Maryland-registered non-profit ostensibly to help Russian-American adoptions but the group has had little activity and seems to have been created to lobby against the Magnitsky Act.
Veselnitskaya wrote on her Facebook page that she came to doubt the Magnitsky campaign’s narrative when she saw that documents signed by Valery Borshchev, Ludmila Alexeyeva and other human rights leaders in Russia in 2009 did not mention the beating of Magnitsky, but then said he was beaten later in 2011. A film-maker and blogger has also promoted this idea of a discrepancy in the documentation.
But that’s because at the time, the human rights advocates did not have access to all the documentation and witnesses and most notably, had not yet been able to obtain the testimony of the medical personnel in the prison. That came later in 2011.
Valery Borshchev, a respected human rights advocate and member of the Public Oversight Commission which is authorized to inspect Russian prisons, immediately protested the twisting of the Magnitsky documentation by Nekrasov and his supporters.
An article by Olga Timofeyev of Novaya Gazeta quotes Borshchev from a letter he sent to editors. He comments that Nekrasov starts out telling the story of Magnitsky’s death as it is well known but the switches to claiming his cell conditions were “normal” and “nothing particularly brutal took place.” Says Borshchev (translation by The Interpreter:

“The film contradicts everything that our commission has done. But what we do we have to do with it? It was the Investigative Committee that opened up the case against Dmitry Kratov, the deputy head of Burtyka [Prison]’s treatment and prevention clinic, and the report of our commission was attached to the case. We provided testimony, I even had a meeting in person with Larisa Litvinova, the Butyrka physician. Our investigation was proceeding normally, until they removed the investigator Marina Lomonosova.

Under the law on civic organizations, we could not be involved in the case ourselves, we were involved only in the conditions of confinement, torture, failure to provide medical assistance, and the violence that led to [Magnitsky’s] murder. In fact we later spoke of tihs openly, that there are no longer any such cells as the ones in which Magnitsky was held (they were rebuilt); the prison bosses admitted, all of these cells were of a torturous nature.

There I can only speak within the framework of my competence, but here I will state firmly: the film does not reflect the true state of affairs regarding Magnitsky’s detention, since it claims they were ‘normal.'”

Novaya Gazeta also published Borshchev’s detailed letter to the head of NBC Universal, whose reporter Ken Dilanian said in written questions to the Magnitsky Campaign that he had “found no evidence” of either Magnitsky’s beatings or his testimony against the police involved in the theft of $230 million.
Borshchev writes in detail about first the refusal to provide proper medical care to Magnitsky, who suffered from chronic ailments aggravated by prison, then about the beating by his guards.
As Borshchev and the other members of the commission wrote:

“Judging from the circumstances of the detention of the prisoner Magnitsky in Butyrka Prison’s SIZO-2 [pre-trial detention], the members of the Public Oversight Commission have concluded that physical and psychological pressure were placed on Sergei Magnitsky. Judging from everything, the SIZO employees understood this.”

The purpose was to get him to recant from his claims of criminal action by law-enforcers themselves in the theft of the $230 million.

Browder documented the 14 times and 13 times that Magnitsky named officers Kuznetsov and Pavel Karpov in 2008 and 2009 before his murder.

The Russian Presidential Council on Human Rights also conducted a thorough investigation of the materials and concluded that Magnitsky was violently attacked before his death. The prison officials also wrote in a report that “a rubber stick was used” and “handcuffs were used” on Magnitsky. The coroner said he found unexplained bruises on Magnitsky’s hands and feet. 
Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, who was president at the time of Magnitsky’s murder, pledged that justice would be done, yet eventually the case stalled, and instead an ever-widening circle of officials involved in cover-up and the heist itself has been discovered.
According to Buzzfeed, the group that has rented a room at the Newseum to show the anti-Magnitsky film is is the Potomac Square Group, a firm run by Christopher Cooper, a former journalist. According to an RFE/RL report, American journalist Seymour Hersh is moderating a discussion at the screen and Rinat Akhmetshin, head of the International Eurasian Institute, a long-time lobbyist in Washington on behalf of Central Asian issues.
Akhmetshin, who at one time represented the exiled former prime minister of Kazakhstan, Akezhan Kazhegeldin, is reported to be a former Soviet military counterintelligence agent by Steven Levine in The Oil and the Glory.

Hersch has been supportive of the Russian approach to the war in Syria, which has been gleefully picked up by the Kremlin propaganda outlet

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

French Prosecutor Says Russian Hooligans Behind Soccer Violence; Russia Should Be Expelled, Says FSF

A French prosecutor says Russian hooligans were behind the violent clashes between English and Russian soccer fans in Marseilles on June 10 ahead of the Europe 2016 soccer tournament, the BBC reported.

And Russia should face expulsion from the European Championship 2016 over the “full frontal attack” from its fans says Kevin Miles, chief executives of the Football Supporters’ Federation, The Telegraph reported.

Thirty-five people were injured, some seriously in the brawl in Marseilles between Russian and English fans, also involving French ultras. Russians claimed they came to the rescue but British and other international media reported they had instigated the clash, The Guardian reported.

England fans were seen fleeing a section of the stadium after they were charged by group of what appeared to be Russia fans, some of them wearing balaclavas, who had set off fireworks and punched through a line of stewards.

Police later used tear gas to disperse fans in the city as trouble continued after the game. It was reported that the metro system was shut down following an accident.

Some claimed the incident reflected a culture of “English hooliganism” said the Guardian. 

However, while English fans said they had gathered in large numbers, they claimed that they were not the ones to instigate the violence and blamed more than 200 Russian and French hooligans for attacking them. Several said the French riot police, engaged in a running battle with English fans for the third day in a row, escalated the problem through heavy-handed tactics.

The English fans then themselves threw bottles and even tables at the French police, escalating the confrontation.

Marseilles Prosecutor Brice Robin stated at a news conference:

 “There were 150 Russian supporters who in reality were hooligans. These people were well prepared for ultra-rapid, ultra-violent action. These are extremely well-trained people.”

He added that this is what made it difficult to catch them, adding that he didn’t they were “professional,” just “well-trained.”

Witnesses said Russian fans set off flares near the end of the game, then climbed over barriers designed to keep rival fans apart.

French police arrested six Britons, three French and an Austrian who face immediate trial. Two Russians were also arrested, both for a pitch invasion.

While Russia’s sports minister Vitaly Mutko said the tournament organizers Uefa had done the right thing to start a disciplinary case against the Russian Football Union, Russian MP Igor Lebedev praised Russian fans and criticized the French police, said BBC, citing R-Sport news agency.

Translation: What happened in Marseilles and other cities of France is not the fault of the fans but the inability of the police to organize the holding of such events.

Translation: I don’t see anything terrible in a fight among fans. On the contrary, our guys are great! Keep it up!

The Football Supporters’ Federation Miles said:

“The primary responsibility obviously has to go with those people who are organising attacks.

There’s no question that groups of locals were planning and carrying out attacks on English football fans, for no other reason than they were English football fans.

That was similarly replicated by some very hardcore Russian hooligan groups who clearly formed up in advance for attacks they looked like they’d trained months for.”

France is also still under a state of emergency after the November 2015 terrorist attacks. 

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick