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Man who made Russia’s first fake Putin gravestone faces terrorism charges for an online video role-playing executions of regime officials

Source: Meduza
Judge Graham / YouTube

An activist from Tatarstan posted a video role-playing a trial against Putin and a death sentence against two officials close to him

Karim Yamadayev is a 38-year-old activist from Tatarstan. He lives in Naberezhnye Chelny, a city of about half a million residents, and is part of a group called Bessrochny Protest (Permanent Protest). Yamadayev runs a political discussion group in Naberezhnye Chelny and regularly creates protest installations and other opposition projects.

Yamadayev has been arrested multiple times for his activities. For example, in January 2019, the activist set up an installation he called “A Monument to the Victims of Political Repression.” The piece was composed of two mannequins, one labeled Vladimir Putin and another carrying the name of Anna Pavlikova, a teenager who was part of an online group activists say was set up by the FSB in an attempt to fabricate a terrorism case. Pavlikova remains a criminal defendant. At the mannequins’ feet lay three plastic heads pasted over with portraits of tax auditor Sergei Magnitsky, journalist and politician Yury Shchekochikhin, and journalist Anna Politkovskaya, all of whom were allegedly killed for political reasons. Following Yamadayev’s action, he was jailed for eight days, a sentence he appealed in the European Court of Human Rights.

In March 2019, Yamadayev placed a fake gravestone with Vladimir Putin’s name and image outside the Investigative Committee building in his hometown. The action was the first of its kind in Russia, but it went viral and sparked several other “graves” for Putin in various cities around the country. Yamadayev received a 28-day jail sentence for the installation.

Then, in late December, Yamadayev posted a video on YouTube imagining a trial against Vladimir Putin, his press-secretary Dmitry Peskov, and Rosneft CEO Igor Sechin, who is known as a close advisor to Putin. All three roles were played by individuals with black bags over their heads and labeled pieces of paper hung around their necks. The video is labeled as the first episode in a series called Judge Graham (no second episode has yet been released), and it had 55,000 views as of Yamadayev’s latest arrest.

The video opens with a warning that its creators did not intend to promote violence or hatred and that any similarities between the video’s characters and actual figures are coincidental. In the rest of the clip, Yamadayev plays the role of a judge who sentences Peskov and Sechin to death. The sentence is then executed off-screen. “Judge Graham” does not sentence Putin in the course of the video.

That video led to two different criminal charges against Yamadayev

On January 3, security officials searched Karim Yamadayev’s home and those of his relatives as part of a criminal case brought under Russia’s relatively recent law banning online insults against the government. Yamadayev was interrogated, given a new date to appear for questioning, and released.

On January 11, the activist was arrested once again. Pavel Terentyev, an attorney with the human rights group Agora who is defending Yamadayev, told Meduza that this time, his client is also facing charges of calling for terrorism. Terentyev clarified that Yamadayev is an official suspect under two different statutes, so he stands accused under both the terrorism charges and the charges of insulting government officials. “The investigators classified a single video as two crimes under two different statutes,” he said.

Also on January 11, the Naberezhnye Chelny City Court ordered Yamadayev to be jailed until February 29. His attorney told Meduza that the case is based only on police reviews of Yamadayev’s social media pages, where the video was posted. “There has not been a linguistic expert examination or anything about what here constitutes an insult to the government or a call for terrorist acts,” Terentyev said.

On January 31, Terentyev intends to appeal Yamadayev’s jail order. Yamadayev himself has said he believes the order stemmed from his political involvement. The Investigative Committee for Tatarstan did not answer phone calls from Meduza.

Yamadayev argued that he has always been against terrorism and even helped prevent a terrorist attack

According to Terentyev, Karim Yamadayev was also trained in the law and claims to have served as a police officer in the early 2000s (this claim has not yet been reliably confirmed). After he was told about the terrorism accusations against him, the activist told his attorney that he had always been against terrorism and that he even helped prevent a terrorist attack in Naberezhnye Chelny in 2004.

Yamadayev said that at the time, he was no longer working in the police force, but he nonetheless managed to “infiltrate” circles close to police major Mikhail Zavaly, who was planning to target his ex-wife and her new partner in a TNT explosion after bringing the necessary explosives to Tatarstan from the Northern Caucasus. Police officers ultimately found the TNT under the floor of a car belonging to Zavaly’s ex-wife’s partner and ensured that it did not explode. The major was sentenced to eight years in a high-security prison on terrorism charges. It is not clear what role Yamadayev actually played in the case.

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Text by Pavel Merzlikin

Translation by Hilah Kohen