Trial of Russian Opposition Activist Volkov Resumes for ‘Obstructing LifeNews’

March 9, 2016
Opposition activist Leonid Volkov of the Parnas party, at court today on charges of "obstructing LifeNews" as a reporter stalked him during an attack by ultranationalists. Photo Yevgeny Kurskov/TASS


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.

Recent Analysis and Translations:

Aurangzeb, Putin, Realism and a Lesson from History
– Why the World Should Care About the Assassination of Boris Nemtsov
How Boris Nemtsov Was Murdered: Investigation by Novaya Gazeta
– How Stalin Returned to Russian Contemporary Life – Meduza


Following Chechnya Attack, Ingushetia Office Of Human Rights Group Stormed By Armed Men

Following this evening’s attack on journalists and activists in Chechnya, a group of armed and masked men have entered offices in neighbouring Ingushetia of the group which organised the trip to Chechnya.

Dmitry Utukin, a lawyer for the Committee Against Torture (KPP), tweeted the following video tonight:

He reported that the building houses the headquarters of the Joint Mobile Group (SMG), a collective project of several human rights organisations working with the KPP.

Right now an attack is under way on the headquarters of the SMG in Karabulak (Ingushetia). We’re watching it unfold by surveillance cameras.

People in camouflage outfits with masks, armed with automatic weapons.

Armed men came in five cars to our apartment, one broke a CCTV camera in the stairwell. Three others climbed in through a window.

Those who are inside are trying to open my colleagues’ door. It’s made of metal, they’re trying to break it down.

All the cameras in the apartment have been disabled. We don’t know what is going on there now.

Meanwhile there is more news from a Swedish journalist who was amongst those attacked on the Chechen border:

— Pierre Vaux
Further on Attack Against 8 Russian and European Journalists, Human Rights Activists Near Chechen Border

Further details have become available about an attack today on a van in which 8 Russian and European journalists and human rights activists were traveling.

The names of the European reporters have been publicized.

Translation: List of journalists who were in the bus: Oeystein Windstad, Norway, Ny Tid, Lena Maria Persson Loefgren, Swedish Radio

Translation: The Joint Mobile Group in Chechnya
List of victims among journalists and human rights activists
Oyestein Windstad, Ny Tid
Lena Maria Persson Loefgren, Swedish Radio
Aleksandra Elagina, New Times
Yegor Skovoroda, Mediazone
Mikhail Solunin, blogger
Anton Prusakov, former Kommersant
Ivan Zhiltsov, press secretary, Committee to Prevent torture
Ekaterina Vanslova, international lawyer

Bus driver

Aleksandrina Elagina, a journalist from the New Times provided details of the attack on the road to Grozny, at the turn by the village of Ordzhonikidzevskaya.

She said she and two others who were travelling in the van are at the police precinct and providing testimony. Another three were taken to the hospital with serious injuries.

About 15 people set upon the van in which the journalists and activists were traveling in Ingushetia en route to Chechnya.

They beat us with clubs. They cut off our van and began to break the windows. Then they dragged us out of the vehicle, took our things, equipment, bags and set the vehicle on fire.

She said her leg was sprained when one of the attackers dragged her from the van.

Dmitry Utkin, a lawyer for the KPP, has posted a number of tweets about the attack.

Translation: Journalists from Norway and Sweden, our lawyer, and the van driver were taken to the Sunzhensky Central District Hospital with traumas.
Translation: According to the Joint Mobile Group, there was a tail on the van with the journalists the last two days.
Translations: Now a high-ranking officer of the Ingushetia Interior Ministry is driving our staff, and the journalists from Sweden and Norway to the hospital.

Translation: Some left their passports in the burnt car, others their equipment. They took away phones from Ivan Zhiltsov and one other journalist.

Other journalists were apparently also traveling in the region and in touch with those attacked.

Translation: Guys I was lucky, I separated from the group along with Petya Ruzavin from TV Rain for a few hours before the attack. He is in one interview, I’m in another.

An activist on trial for supposedly “obstructing the media” today in a skirmish with LifeNews noted the contrast in how attacks on the media are handled in Russia:

Translation: In Chechnya, a van with journalists were attacked, they set the van on fire and beat the journalists. But it’s me they’re still prosecuting under Art. 144-3 [“obstruction of the work of journalists”]

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick 

Eight Journalists and Human Rights Activists Attacked, Beaten by Unidentified Assailants in Chechnya
Journalists and human rights activists traveling from Ingushetia to Chechnya were attacked and their car set on fire, reports, citing Mediazone (whose site is currently down).
About 20 men set upon the car as it reached the border of Chechnya, dragging the passengers out of the vehicle and beating them, then setting the car ablaze.
Eight people were traveling in the car, including members of the Committee to Prevent Torture (KPP), reporters from the Russian Mediazone and New Times, as well as journalists from Sweden and Norway.
The assailants wore masks and used clubs to beat the journalists and human rights defenders; a woman journalist from Sweden suffered a severe leg laceration and Yegor Skovoroda from Mediazone possibly had his arm broken. 
A reporter for Mediazone sent the following tweet:
Translation: A group of human rights activists from the Joint Mobile Group in Chechnya were attacked, journalists and staff members beaten, the auto is burning.
Translation: Everything is OK with us, we’re giving explanations to the police, everyone is alive. Telephone running out of power, sorry.

The Joint Mobile Group, a collective project of several human rights organizations based in the KPP, is a group of lawyers who defend victims of human rights violations.

Cars with Chechen license plates had been following the activists’ car for the last two days. The KPP has been repeatedly attacked in the past; last year their office in Grozny was set on fire, and another time vandals broke their office equipment.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick 
Sochi Student Arrested for ISIS Ties; 1 Dagestani Sentenced for Terrorism; 4 Suspected Hizb-ut-Tahrir Members Caught
A student in Sochi from Ingushetia has been detained on accusations of recruiting for ISIS, Novaya Gazeta reported, citing Kuban TV. He faces up to five years of imprisonment if found guilty.
According to officers of the regional Federal Security Service (FSB) officers and Investigative Committee, the student had been involved in terrorist propaganda since 2014, chatting on the Internet with peers and agitating for jihad and radical Islam.
The student’s name was not given, and it is not known how many people he recruited, although several young women were said to fall under his influence. Kuban TV described the story of one 19-year-old female student who rejected Russian Orthodoxy and accepted Islam after several months of indoctrination and was prepared to travel to Syria to look for a husband among the fighters there.
In November 2015, agents seized computers, print-outs of flags, and books on jihad from the dormitory where the student lived, then arrested him. According to the dorm director, the arrested student was studying economics and was not distinguishable from others, and had a girlfriend he was planning to marry.
When the Ingush student was arrested, the girl he was said to have recruited erased her social media profile and now rarely uses the Internet and is under the supervision of parents, said Kuban TV. has reported that a native of Dagestan whose name was not given was sentenced for participation in ISIS to four years of standard-regimen labor colony. The court cited evidence that he had preached radical Islam.
According to Caucasian Knot, the regional media service, two more people were detained on February 16 on suspicion of ties to ISIS and are now being investigated under Art. 205-5, the statute used to prosecuted terrorists which provides for up to 10 years of imprisonment.
The case that has received the most Russian media attention lately is that of Varvara Karaulova, a student of the philosophy department at Moscow State University who was recruited online to travel to Turkey with the intent of joining ISIS, and was arrested at the border and returned to Russia last summer. She is currently awaiting trial and was sent for psychiatric evaluation to the Serbsky Institute last month.
Today, March 9, Tambiy Khubiyev, one of the terrorists already serving a sentence for two 2004 bombings of the Moscow metro which killed 49 people, was sentenced by the Shatoi District Court to life imprisonment in a special-regimen labor colony for taking part in an armed attack on the paratroopers’ regiment in Karachay-Cherkessia by the Shatoi District Court, Novaya Gazeta reported.
According to the FSB, Khubiyev was under the direction of Shamil Basayev, the Chechen terrorist leader killed in a mine explosion in 2006 for which the FSB took credit. The terrorists reportedly attacked the Pskov 104th Paratroopers’ Regiment in Ulus-Kert in the Shatoy District. 
Caucasian Knot also reported today the arrest of four Dagestanis associated with Hizb-ut-Tahrir, which is banned as a terrorist group in Russia.

Murad Valiyev, Gadzhi Ramazanov, Sharip Khabibov, and Magomed Magomedov were among 9 people detained, 4 of whom have been released. They are charged under Art. 205-5, parts 1 and 2 for organizing a terrorist group and attempting the forcible seizure of government.

Ramazanov’s relatives claim that during a police search, extremist literature was planted.

World news outlets covered today’s announcement by the Pentagon that a March 4th airstrike “likely” resulted in the killing of one of the most famous Caucasian terrorists affiliated with ISIS, Abu Umar al-Shishani (Tarkhan Batirashvili) of Georgia.
Shishani has been dubbed the “minister of war” of ISIS, and the US had offered $5 million for information to help “remove him from the battlefield,” Reuters reported.

But his father says he has no confirmation of his death and receives reports of his death nearly every month. Imam Omar Khagngoshvili, who lives in the Pankisi Gorge, says he also had not had any confirmation of his death, Rustavi-2 TV reported. Journalists typically ask local imams about deaths under the theory that they will know about funeral arrangements.

Caucasian Knot noted that al-Shishani has been reported to have been killed at least 7 times, including by Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick 

Trial of Russian Opposition Volkov Resumes for ‘Obstructing LifeNews’

The trial of Leonid Volkov, an activist in the opposition’s Parnas party, continued today on charges that he “obstructed the media” in a scuffle with a LifeNews reporter stalking him, MediaZone reported.

Last summer Volkov traveled to Novosibirsk to monitor the elections there and protested the blocking of independent candidates. LifeNews, a pro-Kremlin TV station with close ties to Russian intelligence and law-enforcement, followed him into a local office the day before a scheduled news conference and harassed him.
Volkov put up his hand urging them to go away, and the LifeNews reporters said that his microphone was damaged and that Volkov was violating a Yeltsin-era statute intended to give protection to the fledgling independent media.
The testimony of LifeNews and various pro-government witnesses have been contradictory.

At today’s hearing, a pensioner who was holding a picket at the time of the scuffle gave testimony saying he didn’t recall exactly where Volkov had grabbed the microphone as a year had gone by.

Another witness spoke in defense of LifeNews. Yet another witness said he didn’t remember anything about the incident a year ago. But he did recall that the ultranationalist National Liberation Movement headed by Duma deputy Yevgeny Fyodorov came to picket Parnas and “behaved very aggressively.” A woman threw eggs and struck opposition leader Alexey Navalny, who was also present. He said he tried to calm the NOD demonstrators and then senior police officials arrived to speak to them.

A senior policeman then testified that his precinct had created a working group to prevent unlawful actions during the elections, and a phone call had come in to report that an unauthorized demonstration was taking place. But he said he didn’t see the microphone being broken and filmed only people throwing eggs at Navalny.

At an earlier hearing, Yuliya Krepak, the NOD activist who filed charges against Volkov, said she had come to the Parnas office to attend a press conference, although Volkov reminded her it was in fact the next day. She said she disagreed with Navalny’s statement about the return of the Crimea, and that “Putin is a thief.”

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

AM Headlines: Savchenko Due to Finish Last Speech in Court But Lawyer Says She Has Heart Problems

The ruble exchange rate is 72.26 to the dollar; the euro exchange rate is 79.35 to the dollar, and Brent crude is $39.96 per barrel.

The following headlines were taken from 7:40 na Perrone, Jerusalem Post, Interfax,, RBC, Novaya Gazeta, RFE/RL, Kommersant, Vedomosti

American Tourist Killed, 2 Russian Tourists Wounded Among 10 Injured in Palestinian Terrorist Attack in Israel

Savchenko to Finish Last Speech in Court Today But Lawyer Says She is Experiencing Heart Problems on Hunger Strike

Translation: Polozov: Savchenko has problems with her heart.

– Russian Foreign Ministry Complains US is Trying to “Pressure” Its Court in Savchenko’s Case

– European Parliament Calls for Sanctions Against Putin and 28 Other Officials Related to Unlawful Arrest of Savchenko
– Chelyabinsk Blogger Files Complaint with European Court of Human Rights Over Sentencing for Re-Post of Right Sector Text

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick