Sochi Activists Declared Prone to Extremism

December 30, 2013
In the run-up to the Olympics Sochi police are especially vigilant. Photo: RIA Novosti

This article was published prior to two deadly suicide bombings this week in the city of Volgograd (see The Interpreters live-blog for more details). It explains the Russian authorities’ latest approach to preempting terrorism in Sochi during the upcoming Winter Olympics: by making even environmental activists engaged in alleged “extremist activities” register with local police departments.  –Ed.

As the Olympics approach, pressure on Sochi activists by law enforcement agencies becomes stronger. This week it was reported that criminal investigation departments introduced special report cards to register persons who are considered to be inclined to engage in extremist activities and thus are subject to supervision. To fill out those cards, people are subpoenaed to police stations.

Such subpoena was received by Olga Noskovets, an environmental activist, well-known in Sochi. She was to report to a Dagomys police station as a participant in a criminal case. According to Alexander Popkov, an attorney, “The agenda has been issued in violation of the applicable law.

It stated that Olga was summoned to the police as a participant in a criminal case, but it was not specified in what capacity – a suspect, a defendant, or a witness? When I asked a representative of law enforcement, on what legal grounds they subpoena a person under a criminal case, he replied with a stunning phrase: “Well, how else I am supposed to subpoena you?” Even though the attorney advised Noskovets against going to the police, she decided to go, anyway. Speaking to Major Evgeni Tsal, Noskovets found out that she had been summoned to fill out a “card for the Olympics.” “At first they didn’t tell me anything about it, asked me some leading questions, trying to convince me that everything was being done to my own safety. But in they gave me a Form A4 entitled “A registration card for a person inclined to extremist activity and subject to supervision.”

According to the activist, the document contains photo and sections with personal and physiological data, such as information about scars and tattoos, data on any drug treatment or mental problems, as well as about the organization the supervised person is affiliated with. Noskovets refused to provide these data. “Then they tried to persuade me: “It will only take five minutes,” “We were told by our supervisors.” I said, “Five minutes? That’s what it will take you to document the tattoos and scars? Should I undress right here?”

In the end Noskovets had to write a statement that during the Olympics she undertakes to express her civic position exclusively by legal means. On the same day Popkov, a lawyer, got a phone call from a local police officer Alexei Zaponkov. “I ​​was invited for a “friendly conversation.” When asked what exactly the conversation would be about, Zaponkov started to ask me whether I was engaged in any public or religious activities. To which I replied that if they wanted to talk to me about these issues, they should summon me with a subpoena.”

Popkov intends to report the incident to the regional bar association. He assumes that the interest of law enforcement agencies has something to do with his work as an attorney for Sochi political activists: “It’s about attorney-client privilege. I cannot disclose any information relating to my clients.”

The attorney notes that he is not familiar with the police officer he had spoken to, although he knows all the officers in his precinct. Most likely, he suggests, the caller was one of Interior Ministry employees sent here to reinforce the local staff. According to official data, 40,000 police officers will be in charge of providing security at the Olympics, including 25,000 from other regions.

On the same evening, they tried to arrest David Hakim, one of the leaders of the local branch of the “People’s Alliance” party, and Yulia Naberezhnaya, a representative of the “Environmental Watch on North Caucasus”, after a series of pickets in support of ecologist Evgeni Vitishko. (Recently, a court found him guilty of “damaging the fence” around Tkachev (the regional governor) country house, and sentenced him to three years in prison.)

The picket was held next to the clock that shows the countdown to the Olympics. Once the organizers noticed the police around the site, they decided to end the rally. The activists moved to a cafe, located in a mall on Platanovaya alley to discuss the results of the action and meet with their lawyer, Alexander Popkov. At the exit of the mall they were stopped by the police officers, one of whom was sergeant Ishchenko who detained and booked David Hakim after one of his political actions two years ago.

Police asked the activists to show them their ID, but Popkov who happened to be there, reminded the officers, that they must have a valid reason for checking the documents. Then Ishchenko said that they had received some information that Hakim was suspected to be involved in a robbery. When the documents were shown, the police officers checked the database and concluded that they had no more questions for Hakim. They also tried to ID Yulia Naberezhnaya on the basis that “she was with him,” which Popkov called inadequate and suggested that she is subpoenaed if the police suspects her to be a witness or an accomplice of an alleged offense.

The activists were let go, however, in their opinion, if it wasn’t for the attorney next to them, they could be detained: “They are trying to intimidate us, but that doesn’t make sense. If a person decided to participate in protests, he will continue to do that.”

“All this is very unpleasant – detention, checking ID, summons. And all this is done to pressure, intimidate, persuade people to keep a low profile during the Olympics. Putting pressure on activists before the Games, of course, is on the rise and has already yielded some results. Some of the prominent public figures, tired of persecution and being worried about peace and safety of their families, have already announced their intention to leave Sochi for the duration of the Olympics,” – said Alexander Popkov.