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‘It’s a death sentence’ The scene inside and outside the courthouse as the defendants in a controversial Russian extremism case received their sentences

Source: Meduza
Evgeny Feldman for “Meduza”

On Thursday, August 6, Moscow’s Lublinsky Court handed down sentences to the defendants in the controversial “Novoe Velichie” (New Greatness) extremism case. According to state investigators, the seven young suspects were planning to seize power in Russia and abolish the constitution. All of the defendants pleaded not guilty — and insisted that they were the victims of a provocation carried out by the organization’s real leader, who was a witness in the case. Nevertheless, the court found them all guilty of organizing an illegal extremist organization and gave them sentences ranging from four years probation to seven years in prison. Meduza special correspondent Kristina Safonova reports from the courthouse during the sentencing hearing.

“I know that an illegal act is being carried out in this court. We all know that the court demands only blood,” shouts activist Pavel Kristevich from the steps of Moscow’s Lublinsky District Court. Kristevich, dressed in a police uniform, has a mannequin propped up against his left shoulder. The mannequin’s body is covered in the names of political prisoners and high-profile Russian court cases. Among those listed are the “Network” (“Set”) terrorism case and “The Moscow Case,” as well as the names of LGBTQ activist Yulia Tsvetkova, journalist Svetlana Prokopyeva, the Khachaturyan sisters, and members of Pussy Riot. The mannequin’s stomach has a call for freedom and humanity for the suspects in the “Novoe Velichie” case.

“We all know that the realest sacrifice is made here!” — Kristevich continues, and proceeds to slit the mannequin’s throat. Red paint flies out everywhere. Police officers seize Kristevich and the mannequin immediately. 

Law enforcement officers also arrest two girls dressed in police uniforms, who were spraying pink paint in front of the courthouse; as well as an elderly man who was conducting a solo demonstration in support of the accused.

Protest actions ahead of the announcement of the verdict. August 6, 2020.
Evgeny Feldman for “Meduza”

People begin crowding near the entrance to the court. The line to get in includes the defendants’ relatives, activists, journalists, and of course, those who had never heard of “Novoe Velichie” and str coming to court for other cases.

“Make way!” — a bailiff demands.

“Let us see our relatives and loved ones!” — a woman from the crowd shouts in response.

“Let us into the court! You’re creating the crush yourselves,” the others says, in support.

“Can I go into the office?”; “Please, we have our hearing”; “Let me go in for another case” — irritated voices ask from all sides. The bailiff at the entrance answers all of their questions with “We’re gonna” and “Soon.” But after half an hour only the defendants’ relatives and about 50 journalists were allowed in the building. Another 150 people remain outside of the courthouse.

Judge Alexander Maslov reads the sentence very quietly. In the courtroom, where there’s a live stream and a bunch of journalists, it’s almost impossible to make out what he’s saying. However, it becomes clear almost immediately that it’s a guilty verdict. Without listening to even half of the sentence, Maxim Pashkov — the lawyer for defendant Maria Dubovik — says that the defense will appeal the decision. At this point, people outside the courthouse begin chanting “Not Guilty.” Activists from the “Other Russia” movement pour read paint on the steps of the court and unfurl a banner that says “Freedom for political prisoners.” Within less than a minute it’s taken down by police.

Regardless of the fact that the defendants have repeatedly said that they were victims of a provocation led by Ruslan D. (one of the witnesses in the case), the court considers them proven guilty. Judge Maslov explains his position due to the fact that the defendants themselves created a chat group, “that laid the groundwork for an extremist group.”

The judge underscores that state operatives found out about “Novoe Velichie’s” activities without the help of witness Ruslan D. — allegedly, they infiltrated the group independently, took part in meetings, as well as in trainings for shooting and making Molotov cocktails. Testimony from Ruslan D. and the operatives embedded in the group became the basis for the verdict. The court also accepts the initial testimonies of an additional suspect in the case — Pavel Rebrovsky, who made a plea deal with the investigators. After he was sentenced to two and a half years in a prison colony in April 2019, Rebrovsky stated that he had incriminated himself and the other defendants in the case under pressure from state investigators. The Moscow City Court overturned his sentence and sent Rebrovsky’s case back for a retrial.

The reading of the verdict takes nearly four hours. The lawyers and the defendants have to stand the entire time, shifting from one foot to the other. On Telegram, lawyer Maxim Pashkov complains about the heat and the lack of air. On the street, police officers set up metal fences at the entrance to the courthouse. The people around the building — there’s now about 200 of them — chant “Not Guilty” and “We won’t forget, we won’t forgive.” You can’t hear their cries in the courtroom. 

Judge Maslov finally gets to the sentences. The defendants don’t have any aggravating circumstances in relation to the offense, but there are extenuating circumstances — for example, their poor health, positive characteristics, and lack of a criminal records. Regardless of that, the judge reads out practically the exact same sentences that the prosecution requested: 

Anna Pavlikova — four years probation.

Maria Dubovik — six years probation.

Maxim Roshchin — six and a half years probation.

Logistician Dmitry Poletaev gets six years probation — he’s been held in a pretrial detention center since his arrest in March 2018. They release him in the courtroom. 

The other three defendants in the case are given prison terms. Ruslan Kostylenkov, the 27-year-old who the prosecution considers the leader of “Novoe Velichie,” is sentenced to seven years in a prison colony (just six months less than the prosecution asked for). 

Thirty-four-year-old Pyotr Karamzin (a lawyer by training), who the investigation named as the extremist group’s “head of the legal department,” is given six and half years in prison. Twenty-two-year-old student Vyacheslav Kryukov is given six. State investigators considered Kryukov a member of “Novoe Velichie’s” “Supreme Council.”

Vyacheslav Kryukov, Ruslan Kostylenkov, and Pyotr Karamzin during the sentencing. 
Evgeny Feldman for “Meduza”

Maria Dubovik covers her face with her hands and cries. Anna Pavlikova stands with her head bowed. 

Once out on the street, lawyer Maxim Pashkov tells journalists that the lack of a motive is the main indicator that the suspects have been wrongfully convicted. “Such crimes are characterized by a strictly required motive. The motive must be stated in the charges. The prosecution didn’t provide a motive, the prosecutor’s office threw it out,” Pashkov explains. “The court circumvented this issue. But if there’s no motive in the situation in question — there’s no crime. It’s a moment of pure formality. But this, as they say, is a stain on the entire Red Army.” 

The crowd applauds the defendants’ lawyers and chants “Thank you.” But those who only received probation don’t look happy. Dubovik continues crying — several women try to console her. One of them holds a cigarette in her hand, repeating, “Smoke drink, do whatever you want, I feel like hell!” 

Maxim Roshchin tells journalists that he will challenge the verdict. “I’m in the Rosfinmonitoring [the Federal Financial Monitoring Service] registry, I can’t even use my [bank] card. And without a card I can’t do anything, I can’t even get a job.”

Anna Pavlikova refuses to talk to journalists until the verdict comes into force — under the terms of her house arrest, she is prohibited from giving interviews. But her sister explains that tomorrow, Anna will most likely travel to Prison Colony Number 2 in the Vladimir Region, where her husband, activist Konstantin Kotov, is serving a sentence under “the Dadin article.” They haven’t seen each other since their wedding, which took place at Moscow’s Matrosskaya Tishina Pretrial Detention Center on October 17, 2019.

Anna Pavlikova
Evgeny Feldman for “Meduza”
Dmitry Poletaev
Evgeny Feldman for “Meduza”
Maria Dubovik
Evgeny Feldman for “Meduza”
Maxim Roshchin
Evgeny Feldman for “Meduza”

Ruslan Kostylenkov’s friend Tatyana Kolobakina stands off to the side, away from the crowd. During the course of the investigation and the trial Ruslan’s father and grandfather passed away — Tatyana is the only person close to him he has left. She assumes that Kostylenkov is taking the verdict “very badly” — he had hoped to get no more than six years in prison.

“Even five or six years would have been a very serious blow for us. Because we still hoped that the [term of his punishment] would be based on time served [in pretrial detention], considering that this made up organization didn’t do anything, and Ruslan didn’t do anything, and it wasn’t them who did anything,” Kolobakina says. 

She underscores that in his letters, Kostylenkov wrote that “he’s not going to sit [in prison] for that long.” “This sentence simply killed him. The guy has lost everything, and today he lost his freedom too,” she adds. “I know exactly what this prison term is for him — it’s a death sentence.”

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Story by Kristina Safonova

Translation by Eilish Hart 

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