Russian authorities spent the whole of 2022 stamping down on opponents of the “special military operation”. Since the war broke out, 180 criminal cases were opened in Russia for spreading the so-called “fake” information about the actions of the Russian army in Ukraine. Almost half of the prosecuted people have either fled the country or have been placed in custody. The most publicised “fake” cases were launched against opposition politicians and activists, but a large part of the defendants are ordinary people who are not public in any way.
On 4 March, Russia’s legal landscape became even stricter as lawmakers introduced criminal liability for disseminating “deliberately false information about the use of the Russian Armed Forces” in Ukraine. The judicial practice for “fake cases” is slowly forming and it is one with a clear guilty verdict in the end.
Moscow courts deliver the most brutal sentences. Municipal lawmaker Alexey Gorinov and politician Ilya Yashin were already hit with immensely long prison times (7 years, 8 years and 6 months in prison respectively).
Courts away from the Russian capital are not as bloodthirsty. For instance, a Zabaikalye resident was fined 1 million rubles (€13,400), while a former Emergencies Ministry employee received a suspended sentence.
In this article Novaya Gazeta Europe looks closer at several criminal cases opened for spreading “fakes” about the Russian army.
Police officer Semiel Vedel (Sergey Klokov)
The news about the first people detained under the “fake” article emerged in mid-March. Moscow’s former police officer Semiel Vedel (Sergey Klokov) was one of them.
His case is currently being heard in a Moscow district court. Vedel stands accused of making three phone calls, and in one of them he allegedly told residents of Crimea and the Moscow region “deliberately false information” about the actions of the Russian military. His defence team believes that the case is unique as a person is held accountable for phone calls for the first time in Russia.
The case became known to the public after the ex-police officer had been sent to a detention centre on 22 March. He initially was named as Klokov in the court case, but his passport reads Vedel.
Vedel told his lawyer, Daniil Berman, what happened to him after the detention a few days later. According to the former police officer, a bag was put on his head, and he was taken to a police station where the man was officially detained.
The ex-police officer was indicted for spreading military “fakes” motivated by political hatred. The investigation believes that the crime was committed over the phone calls made on 9 March 2022.
The prosecution says that Vedel and the people he called discussed a piece of news they had read on the Internet. According to the article, soldiers’ bodies were transferred from Ukraine to Belarus to be cremated so that Moscow could avoid paying compensations to their relatives.
The investigation also claims that Vedel and unidentified persons were discussing an article that said that there were no Nazis in Ukraine, and that Russia was spreading fake information that there were Nazis there. Moreover, the news read that Russian soldiers had staged explosions in the Rostov region to justify Moscow’s invasion into Ukraine.
The case files include transcripts of at least three such conversations. However, it is not explained why Vedel’s phone was wiretapped and who did it.
Lawyer Street reveals that during the interrogation Vedel said that he was born in Ukraine’s Irpin in 1984. He also lived in Bucha for some time, a Ukrainian city that came to be known all over the world for terrible reasons.
Vedel’s family moved to Moscow a while ago, but his friends and family stayed there. Vedel himself went there to see his grandparents once a year.
When interrogated, Vedel said that all these conversations were “emotional political discussions”. The man admitted that the news turned his head into “a jumbled mess” and conceded that “he could have confused something”. He reaffirmed that he had contacted some people he knew and wanted to learn more about his friends. However, the confession did not save his from detention. The former police officer has been in custody since 18 March.
The court is currently hearing the case and Vedel’s verdict will be delivered in 2023.
Municipal lawmaker Alexey Gorinov
Gorinov holding up a sign that reads “Thank you for your solidarity and support” in court. Photo: Freedom to Alexey Gorinov Telegram channel
Another noteworthy case was opened against Moscow’s municipal lawmaker Alexey Gorinov. It is no exaggeration to say that people were shocked by the enormous prison time that he was punished with by court.
He got 7 years of imprisonment for speaking out against a children’s drawing contest at a lawmaker meeting, saying that it would be unacceptable in such a time.
Gorinov was detained on 26 April and placed into custody the next day. The lawmaker was accused of spreading “fakes” by a group of people while abusing their official position and motivated by political hatred.
According to the investigation, on 15 March, Gorinov and his fellow lawmaker Elena Kotenochkina “conspired” to make several statements during the meeting that “contained information about the Russian Armed Forces that was not true”. In particular, Gorinov described the “special military operation” in Ukraine as war and spoke about deaths of Ukrainian children. The state prosecution believes that these statements contradict the official information provided by the Russian Defence Ministry.
Therefore, Gorinov and Kotenochkina “deceived an unlimited number of people”.
The video footage of the lawmaker meeting was published on the website and on YouTube. Kotenochkina was also targeted by a similar case, but she managed to flee Russia. She was placed on the international wanted list and arrested in absentia.
“What leisure and entertainment can we be talking about when we know moved to a completely different way of life? When hostilities are taking place in a neighbouring sovereign state, and our country is waging an aggression. Please tell me what children’s drawing contest and what dance performances marking Victory Day can we be talking about when we have kids dying every day? <…> I believe that all efforts of the civil society should be aimed at stopping the war and withdrawing Russian troops from Ukraine. So, if the agenda was dedicated to these issues, I would have loved to vote. I will not personally vote, and the rest is up to you,” Gorinov is recorded as saying.
The municipal lawmaker received 7 years in prison for these comments. In September, the judiciary showed compassion by reducing his prison time by 1 month, removing the “conspiring” wording from the verdict.
Lawyer Dmitry Talantov
Dmitry Talantov in court. Photo: Andrey Karev
In June, another “fake case” was launched against the president of Udmurtia’s lawyer chamber Dmitry Talantov (he was also defending journalist Ivan Safronov who was prosecuted for treason himself). Talantov was detained in Izhevsk and transferred to a Moscow detention centre.
The lawyer has repeatedly spoken out against the war online. He had this to say about the missile strike on a mall on Ukraine’s Kremenchuk: “Today’s horror in Kremenchuk is also a part of the denazification? Or is it fascism? Scum is your name!” His social media posts drew a slew of complaints to the police as early as April. Talantov then said that officers carried out a check and asked him to write down a note to explain his actions.
Law enforcement officers never bothered Talantov for this reason. However, in the summer he faced a far more serious case when the police noticed his post written on 3 April where the man slammed actions of the Russian army in Mariupol, Irpin, and Bucha as “Nazi practices”.
Initially, Talantov was indicted on three counts of spreading military fakes motivated by political hatred. In September, the charges got even more severe, and two more episodes were added on the count of inciting hatred by abusing an official post.
In October, his case was referred to court to be heard.
Journalist Marina Ovsyannikova
“Putin is a murderer. His soldiers are fascists. How many more children must die for you to stop?” Ovsyannikova holds up a sign near the Kremlin. Screenshot
In August, former editor of Russia’s Channel One Marina Ovsyannikova faced a case for “fakes” following an anti-war one-woman protest near the Kremlin. She was placed under house arrest. However, the journalist decided to flee the country before the verdict.
The former high-ranking employee of Russian federal TV made international headlines after she interrupted a live primetime newscast on 14 March by appearing behind the news anchor with a poster about the hostilities in Ukraine and the Russian propaganda lies.
Ovsyannikova was fined 30,000 rubles (€390) for a video she recorded before stepping to the live news set. Ovsyannikova later quit her job with Channel One.
The journalist spent some time in Germany where she was offered a job with Die Welt. In early July, she returned to Russia, citing family reasons and the end of contract as the reasons.
Since then, she became even more active in demonstrating her anti-war position. Ovsyannikova also went to the Moscow court that was deliberating the custody for politician Ilya Yashin, another victim of the “fake case”.
The journalist came to support the opposition figure and gave a comment to a news correspondent. She was later fined for it.
On 15 July, she staged a one-woman protest with an anti-war protest on an embankment overlooking the Kremlin. She was not detained at the site, but police officers knocked on the door of her house in the Moscow suburbs a few days later to file a report for discrediting the Russian army. Ovsyannikova was then once again fined, this time 50,000 rubles (€650).
On 10 August, her residence was searched by security service agents in a criminal case for military “fakes” opened after the Kremlin protest. Following the search, the journalist was interrogated and indicted for “publicly spreading deliberately false information about the use of the Russian Armed Forces committed out of political hatred”.
Ovsyannikova was placed under house arrest the next day. In October, the journalist recorded a video address for Russia’s penitentiary service employees, suggesting that Vladimir Putin should don an ankle monitor for his decision to announce mobilisation in Russia.
The journalist escaped her house arrest and fled the country shortly after. Russian authorities later placed her on the wanted list and arrested in absentia.
Politician Ilya Yashin
Ilya Yashin in court. Photo: EPA-EFE / YURI KOCHETKOV / POOL
After the war broke out in Ukraine, former municipal lawmaker Ilya Yashin was one of the few Russian opposition politicians who remained in the country and took up a hardline anti-war stance. The authorities, in turn, did not leave him unattended: a case was opened against the opposition figure for spreading “fakes” about the Russian army motivated by “political hatred”. The cogs of criminal prosecution started turning after Yashin launched a live stream in April where he read out official comments of Moscow and Kyiv.
Even before the case was opened, Yashin, 39, faced administrative offence charges for discrediting the Russian Armed Forces and fined 90,000 rubles (€1,170) for three of them. It was clear then already that a criminal case was in the making. However, Yashin still said in numerous interviews that he was not going to escape or hide.
The “fake case” investigation took almost 5 months. Yashin was detained on 12 July and sent to a detention centre the next day.
According to the prosecution, Yashin during his YouTube stream “disseminated false information about alleged crimes in Bucha while foreseeing the publicly-dangerous consequences [of his actions]”. On top of that, Yashin was dismissive about the about the current authorities and allegedly knew that “the false information he disseminated” would be of interest for a large number of people due to his public status.
Yashin himself categorically rejected the charges, slamming it as persecution of political opposition. He explained that he was covering the events by following classical journalist standards, offering his judgements to his viewers as well as different points of views.
The judge needed just four hearings to listen to both sides and deliver a verdict. In the end, Yashin was sentenced to 8 years and 6 months of prison. The defence team has already filed an appeal.
Artist Alexandra Skochilenko
Alexandra Skochilenko. Photo: Telegram
A St. Petersburg court has begun hearing the “fake case” of artist Alexandra Skochilenko. She is accused of publicly spreading “deliberately false information motivated by political hatred”. Skochilenko swapped price tags in a chain grocery store for stickers with information about the actions of the Russian Armed Forces in Ukraine and was detained shortly after.
The artist’s health deteriorated in custody. Skochilenko’s lawyer Yana Nepovinnova said that the artist had been placed in a cell with 18 other people where she was not provided any special food due to gluten intolerance. Cellmates were not allowing her to open the fridge.
“Sasha (short for Alexandra in Russian — translator’s note) was constantly told that she smells. The cellmates made Sasha wash all her clothes again every day, including large sweaters and a warm robe. It takes her half a day,” says Sonya Subbotina, Skochilenko’s girlfriend.
The artist later was moved to a two-person cell where she was offered warm gluten-free food. Skochilenko then started having health issues following a tooth removal procedure: the complication occurred because the wound was not stitched. As a result, she had an inflamed lymph node, while the antibiotics and painkillers provided in the detention centre were not enough for her to heal.
The first court hearing has already taken place. Skochilenko pleads not guilty. She has been detained since 13 April.
Over this period, her detention has been repeatedly extended even though the defence team was asking for something milder, a house arrest, for instance. The detention hearings were held without audience and press. However, the hearing into the actual case is open to the public. The next one is scheduled for 20 January 2023.
Stoker Vladimir Rumyantsev
The last “fake” verdict of 2022 was delivered in the case of Vladimir Rumyantsev, 61, a stoker from Vologda. He was sentenced to three years in prison for his opposition to the war. The man was targeted for spreading “false information” by using his undercover radio station. The prosecution wanted to land him in jail for six years.
Not much is known about Rumyantsev. Russia’s TV Rain reported that he used to work as a stoker for 20 years and later as a ticket controller on a trolleybus line. He also took part in few protest rallies in his native city. He also had an amateur radio station which worked with transmitters bought on AliExpress. In the past 8 years, Rumyantsev regularly went on air and mainly played Soviet-era music hits. His radio station signal covered about 2 neighbouring blocks.
Following the Russian invasion, he started being more involved in politics. Rumyantsev decided to play YouTube videos by opposition speakers for his neighbours. It is possible that some of them reported the stoker to the police for this brazen dissent.
In the summer, he became the first person in the city to be charged with spreading military “fakes”. Rumyantsev was accused of publishing and spreading “deliberately false information” about the actions of the Russian army “motivated by political hatred”. He was taken to a detention centre on 15 July. The prosecution became interested in him for social media posts as well as his radio station broadcasts. After 24 February he was almost daily posting the news about the war. He pled not guilty.
Rumyantsev’s lawyer Sergey Tikhonov explained that the court gave him the prison sentence below the lowest possible threshold for the “fake” article (a minimum of 5 years) considering Rumyantsev’s age and health condition.
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