How journalists and activists get prison time for drug charges ‘Meduza’ summarizes eight of Russia's most impactful Article 228 cases
Article 228 of the Russian Criminal Codex (illegal acquisition, possession, transportation, production, or processing of narcotic drugs) became a powerful tool in the government’s fight against opposition and human rights activists well before Meduza correspondent Ivan Golunov was arrested under the statute on June 6. In the past few years, there have been no fewer than eight cases in which that same article was applied to journalists, human rights defenders, and Russian citizens who simply took an active role in civil society.
Activist for A Different Russia, Smolensk
Sentence: 10 years in prison
On November 1, 2010, criminal drug dealing charges were brought against Taisiya Osipova, a Smolensk activist for the organization “A Different Russia,” which is not officially registered in the Russian Federation. The charges against Osipova were based on the testimony of a “classified” witness. Both police searches of Osipova’s property and supposed undercover sting operations against the activist involved pro-Kremlin activists from the groups “Nashi” (“Ours”) and “The Young Guard of United Russia) as well as an operative from the Interior Ministry’s Center for Combating Extremism. They changed their testimony repeatedly during her trial. On November 23, 2010, a search was conducted in Taisiya Osipova’s home that included a senior security officer from the Center for Combating Extremism. Five packages filled with an unknown substance and a labeled 500-ruble bill (less than $8) were found during the search. Osipova’s attorneys insisted that the drugs found in her home were planted. In February 2017, Osipova was released from prison on parole.
Prominent social figure, Chechnya
Sentence: 3 years and 10 months in prison
A Ph.D. in philosophy from Chechnya who was active in civil society, Ruslan Kutaev found himself in pre-trial detention on February 14, 2014, and was released on December 20, 2017. According to Chechnya’s Interior Ministry, he was arrested on suspicion of the illegal possession of three grams of heroin. The drugs were found in the back pocket of his pants when he was arrested. Kutaev’s relatives later stated that, in fact, he was arrested at home, and no drugs were found. Human rights defenders alleged that after Kutaev was detained, he was tortured; extensive hematomas were found on his body. The human rights organization Memorial argued that the case against him was fabricated after he held a conference called “The Deportation of the Chechen Nation: What Was It and Can It Be Forgotten?” that was not approved in advance by Chechen authorities.
Journalist for the online news outlet Caucasian Knot
Sentence: 3 years in prison
On April 16, 2016, Zhalaudi Geriev took a bus to Grozny, where he was supposed to catch a flight to a legal seminar in Moscow. He was dragged off the bus and taken to a forest, where he was beaten, choked, and accused of working against the Chechen government. Then, the attackers took away the journalist’s backpack and said they found marijuana inside. Geriev was forced to confess to drug possession. At his trial, the journalist renounced that confession. Human Rights Watch believes that the case against Geriev was brought as a form of revenge for his journalistic activities. Memorial recognized him as a political prisoner. Geriev was released in April 2019.
Opposition activist, Moscow
Sentence: 3 years in prison
Russian Communist Party member Sergey Reznikov and his wife, Stella Obodina, are both activists from Moscow. They actively resisted falsification and ballot stuffing during elections, fought against urban infill development, and participated in the 2011 – 2012 protests. It is widely known that Reznikov was in constant conflict with the head of his neighborhood’s local council. He was arrested while going shopping with his granddaughter and thrown to the ground. Drugs were allegedly found in his pocket. After Reznikov’s release, Communist Party member and State Duma representative Valery Rashkin told journalists that police and investigators who specialized in planting drugs for “political orders” were themselves arrested and put on trial after the Reznikov case. In April 2017, Reznikov was charged with possessing and attempting to sell drugs. He was sentenced to three years in prison. In July, the prosecution modified the charges, limiting them to drug possession. Reznikov was released on November 20, 2018, when the court replaced the remainder of his sentence with a 350,000-ruble fine.
Opposition activist, Mineralnye Vody
Sentence: to be determined
Mikhail Savostin is a member of the political committee of the Assembly of the People of the Caucasus, the head of the Mineralnye Vody People’s Assembly, the founder of the Stavropol regional branch of the Solidarity Independent Union, and a co-founder of the Foundation for the Defense of Business Rights and Interests. Savostin was leaving Mineralnye Vody in April of 2018 when he was stopped by police. According to the police protocol against him, Savostin “threw” a packet “under the wheels of his car.” This became the legal reason for searching Savostin. During the search, officers found another packet “in the outside left pocket of his jeans.” The packet contained a grayish-green substance the police identified as marijuana. Savostin’s attorney said her client described the situation differently: Savostin’s hands were tied behind his back with a wire, and then police spent some time handling his pocket. The activist and legislator has been held in a pretrial detention center for more than a year.
Open Russia activists, Pskov
Sentence: to be determined
Leah Milushkina, the Pskov coordinator for the human rights organization Open Russia, was arrested along with her husband, Artyom, on January 17, 2019. The charges against them are based on testimony given by an anonymous witness. Investigators said they found a package of amphetamines during a search of the Milushkins’ home. The Memorial human rights center argued that the case against the Milushkins “carries significant indicators of fabrication and political motivations for their persecution.” On May 16, a Pskov court extended Artyom Milushkin’s detention to July 15. Leah Milushkina is currently under house arrest.
Head of the Chechnya division of the Memorial human rights center
Sentence: 4 years in a prison colony
The leader of Memorial’s Chechen branch was arrested on January 9, 2018. 180 grams of marijuana were found in his car. Titiev argues that the drugs were planted. In the course of the investigation against him, Titiev repeatedly submitted requests to the regional division of Russia’s Investigative Committee asking that the police officers he believed planted the drugs be brought to justice. “This trial has been record-breaking in its hypocrisy and cynicism. I hope my family and my four children will endure these trials that have been sent by Allah,” Titiev said during his trial, which began a month after his arrest. On March 18, 2019, the Shalinsky City Court of Chechnya ruled that Titiev was guilty of carrying controlled substances. The defense continued to insist that the case against Titiev was fabricated for the political purpose of shutting down Memorial’s investigative and legal activities.
Translation by Maya Chhabra and Hilah Kohen