‘Harmless bruising’ Russian federal agents dragged a man into the forest and beat him. He’s been charged repeatedly with posting ‘illegal comments’ online.
On October 15, members of the Federal Security Service in Kaluga arrested a 36-year-old local man and accused him of justifying terrorism in comments published on the social network VKontakte. A court later placed the suspect under house arrest for at least the next two months. This isn’t the first time Ivan Lyubshin has faced criminal prosecution for things he’s written online. In 2017, he was charged with distributing pornography and extremism, and “rehabilitating Nazism,” but he got off mostly with a few fines. Lyubshin’s father told Meduza that his son wasn’t so lucky this month, when FSB agents dragged him into the woods and beat him. Afterwards, forensic experts nevertheless concluded that the attack “caused no harm.”
A man in Kaluga was fined 200,000 rubles ($3,125) for a post on VKontakte. When he went job hunting, he was arrested and placed under house arrest in a new investigation.
Ivan Lyubshin was arrested around seven in the morning on October 15. His father, Viktor Lyubshin, says his son was on his way to apply for a job. Until 2017, he worked as a sales manager at Kaluga’s First City Law Office, but he was fired after police charged him with three counts of illegal online behavior.
The first case against Ivan Lyubshin concerned two videos he shared on VKontakte that allegedly contained extremism. One video, titled “Pobedobesie” (which roughly translates to “Victory Frenzy”), was about the German–Soviet military parade in Brest-Litovsk in 1939, the “equivalence” between the USSR and the Third Reich, and alleged war crimes committed by Soviet soldiers, and mistakes by their commanders. The second video was a clip from the Polish project “Right Wing,” which featured the song “Instead of Leaves” about Communists someday “hanging on trees instead of leaves.”
Lyubshin says he was accused of rehabilitating Nazism for sharing several “incriminating” pictures, such as an image showing a soldier wearing a helmet bearing the SS emblem with the caption: “Soldiers carrying Russia’s freedom.”
Finally, Lyubshin was charged with distributing pornography because of the videos “Benny Benassi — Saticfaction (porno version)” and “Female Erotic Massage,” which were shared on the page of VKontakte user Yanis Kashirsky, whose account was registered using Lyubshin’s phone number. Lyubshin insists that he never posted the videos, and he says he doesn’t even have access to the account, which belonged to his late cousin.
In 2017, police dropped the pornography charges, and Lyubshin was fined 400,000 rubles ($6,250) for the supposedly extremist and pro-Nazi posts. Two years later, after Russia decriminalized first-offense violations of Criminal Code Article 282, the extremism conviction was overturned, leaving Lyubshin with a 200,000-ruble fine. But Viktor Lyubshin says his son can’t afford even this reduced penalty. In the summer of 2019, Russia’s Federal Financial Monitoring Service added Ivan Lyubshin to its list of terrorists and extremists, making it nearly impossible for him to find work. On October 28, the Kaluga Regional Court commuted Lyubshin’s sentence to garnished wages and a year’s community service. “When he finds a job, he’ll have to give back 20 percent of his income,” says Viktor.
Ivan certainly won’t be working for the next two months, now that a court has placed him under house arrest and forbidden him from using the Internet and telephone. He is only permitted to communicate with his parents. Viktor says his son has also started worrying about his safety, “always dead-bolting all the doors.”
Ivan Lyubshin now faces a fourth set of charges because of posts on social media. After the FSB arrested him, agents took him to the forest and beat him.
“[The day Lyubshin was arrested] he left the house and walked maybe 20 meters [65 feet] to the bus stop, where an unmarked van pulled over and asked him something like ‘What address is this?’ He raised his head and that’s when they punched him in the face. He thought it was some kind of robbery and they’d mixed him up with someone else,” says Viktor Lyubshin. They knocked Ivan to the ground, beat him, and then loaded him into the van. “When they pinned him to the ground like a pig, he realized that there’d been no mistake, and they’d come for him afterall.”
They took Ivan to the edge of the woods, where masked FSB officers continued to beat him and shock him with a taser, says his father. “They didn’t just beat him; they taunted him, saying, ‘We’ll bury you.’ So they threatened him with murder and execution — that’s already a felony. In the end, they took turns stomping on one of his ears.”
Lyubshin wasn’t formally charged until the afternoon, when the officers finally delivered him to state investigators. This new case revolves around two comments he posted about a bombing at the FSB’s branch office in Arkhangelsk, where Lyubshin called the 17-year-old bomber “a hero” and “the man of the week, at least.”
According to officials, Lyubshin’s online comments were intended to “create the conditions to undermine the public order” and “change the public’s worldview regarding the terrorist act [...] that had been committed.” Viktor Lyubshin says these new charges are no coincidence: “Maybe they decided to grab him because he wriggled free [the first time], thanks to the statute’s decriminalization.” Lyubshin also points out that his son deleted the posts in question, before the latest case was even opened.
A medical examiner identified multiple bruises on Lyubshin’s body, but she recorded the injuries as “unharmful.” Lyubshin’s father says some of the bruises were more than six inches wide.
Once with the Investigative Committee, Lyubshin complained about the assault by the FSB agents and said he was experiencing pain in his chest and ribs. Paramedics examined him, measured his blood pressure, and said he’d suffered bruising, says Lyubshin’s father. That same day, the head investigator sent Lyubshin for a forensic medical examination.
Lyubshin was diagnosed with multiple bruising (Meduza has a copy of his exam) around his ears, wrists, right elbow, left shoulder, chest, rib cage, lower back, and right shin. According to the report, none of the bruises was wider than than about 2.4 inches. The chief examiner, Zhanetta Arkhipova-Zinatullina, concluded that “the damage was caused by blunt force trauma,” but “there was no harm to [Lyubshin’s] health.”
Viktor Lyubshin says he has concerns about the medical examination. On October 17, when Ivan was returned home, he measured his son’s bruises himself and also photographed the injuries. Some of the bruises were more than six inches wide — more than twice as big as Dr. Arkhipova-Zinatullina stated in her review.
Lyubshin’s lawyer, Igor Titov, has filed complaints with the district attorney’s office, the regional investigative committee, and local Human Rights Commissioner Yuri Zelnikov. Viktor says he doesn’t expect justice, however. “They beat him up so good that he’s still jumping at his own shadow. He’s always nervous and tense,” his father says. “I don’t know why it’s necessary to go after someone like this, all because of some Internet posts.”
Translation by Kevin Rothrock