“Stalin would be delighted.” Why military courts deal with activists’ cases

Sports manager Mikhail Zharikov, a 38-year-old resident of Nizhny Novgorod, was sentenced to six years in prison for posting on social networks, in which the investigation found justification for terrorism, “fakes” about the army and the rehabilitation of Nazism. This is the harshest sentence on political articles in the Nizhny Novgorod region. It is noteworthy that the verdict was handed down by the 2nd Western District Military Court in Moscow. It was a remote process: Mikhail and his lawyer communicated with the court via video link.

The same military court a few weeks earlier ordered compulsory psychiatric treatment to another politically active citizen of Nizhny Novgorod – Alexey Onoshkin. At the same time, the criminal charges against him were dropped, but the defendant himself took the decision of the military judges negatively.

Building of the 2nd Western District Military Court on Arbat, Moscow

Building of the 2nd Western District Military Court on Arbat, Moscow

According to Russian legislation, both of these cases could only be considered by a district military court, since both Zharikov and Onoshkin were accused, among other things, under article 205.2 – justification of terrorism.

Since there is the word “terrorism”, the case goes to a military court

“Previously, the prerogative of examining everything related to terrorism was with the jury,” human rights activist Stanislav Dmytrievsky reminds. – And at the beginning of the 2000s, there were a huge number of acquittals – well, as in any jury trial. Because the investigation was led by “Faces” (FSB employees, – RS), and they obviously dragged in some evidence in the calculation that the court would devour everything. And the jurors did not eat it! And in 2008, Putin initiated amendments to the Criminal Procedure Code, which transferred all cases of terrorism not even to the jurisdiction of an ordinary court, but to the jurisdiction of this rudiment of social justice – a military court. This is the most manipulated court. And then, when there were new lists of some criminals, the same as “justification of terrorism”, the logic was as follows: since there is the word “terrorism”, then the case goes to the jurisdiction of military courts.

Mikhail Zharikov’s page on the VKontakte social network has 110 subscribers. What the investigation called the justification of terrorism is contained in Mikhail’s post about blowing up the car of the Russian writer, politician and propagandist Zakhar Prilepin. This text has two “likes” and one repost.

Mikhail Zharikov, photo from the page

Mikhail Zharikov, photo from the VKontakte page

Zharikov sharply reacted to the events connected with Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, with the violation of rights and freedoms in the country.
“Here’s what I want to say: I’m not afraid of all the consequences, reprisals, etc. I know that VK is a completely powerful social network. Never mind, I can’t keep silent,” wrote, for example, Mikhail, commenting on the sentence of Vladimir Kara-Murza.

Zharikov will serve a six-year term in a general regime colony. In addition to deprivation of liberty, the military court forbade him to administer Internet resources for four years.

– He met the court’s decision calmly, even with a smile, – said Zharykov’s lawyer Aleksey Matasov. – The deadline was finally decided for him, and he felt like he was in the dark. He had no illusions about the trial before.

Mikhail Zharikov cannot be called an activist, he expressed his personal opinion on social networks with a narrow circle of followers. Nevertheless, it was Nizhny Novgorod oppositionists who reacted most actively to the sentence.

What is the effect of Zharikov’s comments, apart from his arrest?

“What’s the trick? – comments Ilya Myaskovsky, who is also awaiting sentencing in the “discrediting” case. – Here’s a guy who wrote in some newspaper that Jews drink the blood of Christian babies (sorry!), and a day or two later the Kishinev pogrom broke out This was in 1903. Dozens of dead, and other charms. This is extremism, these are calls that had real consequences. And what is the effect of Zharikov’s comments, apart from his arrest? 104 insults? Are you serious? Where is the real damage to anyone? was there, except for the peace of the Central Security Service, the FSB, prosecutors and judges? Whom are they protecting, except themselves?”

Alexey Onoshkin – tour guide, Pastafarian, public activist – was a much better-known person in the opposition circles of Nizhny Novgorod. He did not hide his sharply negative essment of Russia’s actions on the territory of Ukraine. At the same time, Onoshkin is an ambiguous personality: many people remember not so much his sharp political statements, but the story of the beating of a girl for having an abortion. After several administrative cases for statements “discrediting” the Armed Forces of Russia, he first received a criminal case for the same reason, and in November of last year, a case about the justification of terrorism was added to it. This is how employees of the Russian law enforcement agencies appreciated his posts about Chechnya’s struggle for independence.

The “terrorist” article was presented to Onoshkin when he was already forcibly transferred from the pre-trial detention center to a psychiatric hospital. The investigator insisted on this, since doctors diagnosed Alexey with “pseudopsychopathic schizophrenia.” However, the defense also did not object. After a year in a mental hospital, Onoshkin was brought before a military court, which acquitted him of criminal charges, but sent him to a closed institution for compulsory treatment.

My views are declared to be the ravings of a madman so that I don’t have followers

– [Оцениваю решение] rather negatively, Onoshkin told Reporter-NN. – Because criminal prosecution is for a certain period of time, and coercive treatment can last indefinitely. Therefore, I don’t even know how long I will lie there. Patients are completely isolated from the world. They have no radio, no telephones. It is more difficult to visit there, because the hospital is located far outside the city, in the village of Komsomolsky. My views are declared to be the ravings of a madman so that I don’t have followers.

In an hour in a psychiatric hospital, Alexey Onoshkin changed a lot

In an hour in a psychiatric hospital, Alexey Onoshkin changed a lot

The practice of remote decisions of military courts causes the historian Ilya Myaskovsky to have clear ociations with the period of Stalin’s terror:

There are so many “traitors” around that they barely keep up

– Judges sit in Moscow and deliver the verdict directly from there. Yes, yes, the defendant and his lawyer go to the Nizhny Novgorod Garrison Court, and the judges in the 2nd Western District Court do not leave their cozy nest in the capital. As if we have covid or trains no longer run. They have a lot of work, there are so many “traitors” around that they barely keep up. And how does it differ from the “troek” of 1937? Comrade Stalin would be happy for the current technocrats!

“Competitiveness in video mode is a complex topic,” confirms Mikhail Zharikov’s lawyer Aleksey Matasov. – In such a regime, it is difficult to understand whether the court is listening to you or is already distracted by something, how it reacts. At the same time, it is good that I was in Nizhny Novgorod, next to Mikhail, and could consult him during the process. Otherwise, if I were in Moscow, near the court, communication with the client would be superficial.

Lawyers began to be jailed: even the Soviet government did not allow this

“A lawyer now is such palliative help,” says human rights activist Stanislav Dmytryevsky. – A lawyer is needed, for example, for a search, so that nothing is thrown at you. It is clear that if they want to drop , they will drop them, but at least they won’t bring a grenade launcher to you with a lawyer, most likely. By the way, they have already started arresting lawyers. Even the Soviet government did not allow this.

Stanislav Dmitrievsky

Stanislav Dmitrievsky

Even in the 2000s, Stanislav Dmytryevsky himself was on trial for inciting hatred or enmity, which the investigation saw in the publication of the self-proclaimed fighter for the independence of Chechnya. In 2017, the ECHR declared the decision of the Russian court illegal and ordered the state to pay compensation to Dmitrievsky. But during the trial itself in 2004, as the human rights defender admits, there were no doubts about the outcome of the case and the indictment. Since then, the situation in the Russian judicial system has only worsened, Dmitrievsky states:

There is no court in Russia, there is the Roskomrasprava

– In general, it is incorrect to speak in Russia about the existence of the court institute now. There is no court in Russia in the sense that it is understood in modern law. We have absolutely no acquittals in political cases! I think that’s all… how to call it? – Roskom’s investigation! Whatever the investigator brings, it will be accepted. It is possible to drag into the so-called court, I don’t know, a three-letter word on the fence instead of a protocol, and if it was brought by an FSB officer, the court will accept it as evidence.

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