Take everyone who shouts ‘Freedom!’ St. Petersburg ‘Network’ terrorism case verdicts spark protests and dozens of arrests
On June 22, a military court in St. Petersburg sentenced two suspects in the high-profile “Network” (“Set”) terrorism case to a combined total of 12.5 years in prison, for their roles in organizing an alleged terrorist group among left-wing activists in Penza and St. Petersburg. Twenty-five-year-old computer programmer Viktor Filinkov was sentenced to seven years in prison, while 28-year-old alpinist Yulii Boyarshinov — who was also convicted of illegal possession of explosives — was sentenced to five and a half years. After the verdicts were announced, law enforcement began arresting activists protesting in support of the accused outside the courtroom en masse. Meduza recounts how the verdicts in the “Network” case sparked the first group protest in St. Petersburg since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
Yulii Boyarshinov and Viktor Filinkov were brought to the courthouse around 9 a.m. — three hours before the start of the trial.
The suspect’s supporters had already started gathering outside the building, and girls from among the group shouted “Good morning!”
The police convoy quickly led the defendants inside the building through a back entrance, without saying anything in response. Activists continued to gather outside of the main entrance — some of them had come from other cities to support the accused during their sentencing. In the crowd, you could spot t-shirts with the inscription “Your electroshock will not kill our ideas” and “The cops are everywhere” — several people wore protective masks with the words “FSB is the biggest terrorist” written across them. By about 11:30 a.m., approximately 50 people had gathered outside of the court.
Activist Pavel Kristevich, a young man sporting a black beret with a feather, began to chant “Freedom for political prisoners!”
Kristevich then quickly lit a red flare and chained himself to the broken-down park fence near the courthouse, chanting “FSB is the biggest terrorist.” The chants were picked up by the crowd. From their phone, someone played the song “Eto Proydet” (“This will pass”) by the punk group “Pornofilmy” — a song which has become the anthem of the movement in support of the “Network” case.
Kristevich threw a pile of leaflets defending the accused into the air and began to talk with the police officers calmly — all this time they had been trying to cut off the activist’s handcuffs with bolt cutters. This took them at least five minutes. “[Awesome] handcuffs guys,” Kristevich commented. Police officers took him away in a paddy wagon not long after the start of the hearing.
None of the defendants’ supporters were allowed into the courtroom: due to restrictions linked to the coronavirus, only their family members and a few journalists were allowed in — apart from Mediazona’s correspondent, who live streamed the hearing, most of the journalists presents were from state-owned media channels. For example, journalists from Gazprom Media’s NTV were allowed to enter the courtroom without waiting in line. Protesters near the courthouse greeted the TV channel’s car by screaming “Shame!” “And will Yulik and Vitya come out for a walk?” — someone asked the police officers standing near the door to the court.
Around 12 p.m., three judges entered the courtroom, led by Roman Muranov. Both of the defendants listened to his words while in handcuffs. Viktor Filinkov, dressed in a t-shirt with the words “You are a terrorist” written across it in English, made hearts with his hands at the camera. Yulii Boyarshinov smiled at his lawyer and listened to the sentence intently.
The judge read the decision in less than 10 minutes. With a trembling voice, he found them both guilty. Filinkov, who had pleaded not guilty, was given seven years in a penal colony. Boyarshinov, who had admitted partial guilt, was sentenced to five and a half years. The verdict can be appealed within 10 days, the judge said in conclusion.
His last words were drowned out by activists chanting “Freedom for political prisoners!” — the protesters outside the courthouse were following the verdict via the live stream, listening to the judge’s quiet words. The crowd compared what was happening to the radio broadcasts about the start of the Soviet Union’s war with Germany (World War II), which took place 79 years ago today. Adding to the parallels, the police officers made repeated requests over a loudspeaker for the crowd to disperse, due to the threat of the spread of the coronavirus, and for “holding an unauthorized event.” Almost no one paid any attention to the words of the police. In response, some demanded that they drop the Network case.
Law enforcement arrived at the courthouse in full protective gear — many of them had medical masks on under their helmets and gloves on their hands. They began arresting the defendants’ supporters almost immediately. One of the first to be loaded into a paddy wagon was a young man who was trying to play “Eto Proydet” on the guitar. The police detained several girls, dragging some of them along the asphalt. One of the detainees turned out to be Yana Sakhipova — Yulii Boyarshinov’s wife. Someone in the crowd asked the police if they were ashamed of arresting girls. In response, they said they were being provoked into making arrests. Among themselves, the police officers discussed “taking” everyone who shouted “Freedom!” or stood on the lawn.
All total, about 30 police officers in helmets and bulletproof vests lined up near the courthouse. There were only a few dozen more activists and journalists waiting for the accused to be brought out of the building. Protesters were arrested every couple minutes — one person was detained for trying to play something on the drums (the activists continued to drum inside the paddy wagon), another for wearing a mask that completely hid their face, while others were arrested for shouting slogans. Some were taken just because; on the orders of higher-ranking police officers, calling for arrests.
The first police wagon filled up quickly. The detainees started the song “Eto Proydet” over again and began drumming on the walls inside — the van left quickly, accompanied by shouts of “Shame!” The next paddy wagon ran out of space in no time— the detainees complained that there was no air to breathe inside. The police officers refused to allow them water. Meanwhile, all the new detainees were loaded into the van.
“How were you brought up like this, by fascists?” activists asked police officers, who handled protesters roughly or dragged them across the asphalt. “Police with the people,” other activists suggested, timidly. “You are carrying out criminal orders,” a third groups said, trying to sway the police. The officers rarely reacted, except for occasionally demanding that the protestors “not interfere with their work.” “Being a cop is shameful,” the activists replied.
In total, law enforcement arrested 30 people. The number of activists outside of the courthouse grew smaller with every passing minute — people in the crowd began to ask if someone could borrow money to pay the fine after their arrest. They quickly found someone who was willing to help.
At that time, Yulii Boyarshinov’s father, Nikolai Boyarshinov, was giving an interview to reporters, right between the police line and the protesters. He took his son’s verdict calmly, underscoring that he did not expect anything other than a real prison term. “This is not the end and not the beginning. This is the next stage. We will continue to try and do something so that the guys will be released,” he said, adding that he will continue to stage single-person demonstrations in support of his son.
Around 1 p.m. Filinkov and Boyarshinov were brought out to a police van and taken away from the court building. “You will be free,” the remaining activists who had not been arrested promised them in parting.
At the time of publication, the arrested protesters were still being held in paddy wagons at the police station. In at least one of the vans, the activists staged an “unauthorized disco” to a song by the Belarusian group Contra La Contra, with the chorus “Power is made of black rubber, it is made from cops’ batons.”
Single-person protests in support of Yulii Boyarshinov and Viktor Filinkov also took place outside of the FSB headquarters in Moscow. According to Novaya Gazeta, at least 21 people were arrested.
Translation by Eilish Hart