‘They met at McDonald’s’ Inside the courtroom for the reading of the last verdict in a controversial Russian extremism case
On October 29, Moscow’s Lublinsky District Court sentenced 33-year-old courier Pavel Rebrovsky — the last defendant in the “Novoe Velichie” (New Greatness) extremism case. This was Rebrovsky’s second trial in this case: in April 2019, he was sentenced to two and a half years in prison — he pleaded guilty beforehand in the hopes of being sentenced to probation. Six months later, Rebrovsky retracted his confession — he ended up on trial once again and was handed a six year prison sentence yesterday. “Meduza” special correspondent Kristina Safonova reported from the courtroom.
Pavel Rebrovsky enters the courtroom of the Lublinsky Court carrying a green sports bag and another large bag containing necessities for the detention center: a dark woolen sweater, a package of sliced cheese, a thick purple water glass. Setting everything down on the floor, Rebrovsky looks at the journalists in the room with curiosity. His court case has attracted less attention than the trial of the other “Novoe Velichie” defendants. The Lublinsky Court handed him his last conviction — two and half years in prison — during a closed-door trial in April 2019. At the time, Rebrovsky had made a plea deal. He confessed to all of the charges and testified about “Novoe Velichie’s” plans to overthrow the Russian government.
Six months later Rebrovsky retracted his testimony, stating that he incriminated himself and the other defendants in the case under pressure and in the hopes of being sentenced to probation, which ultimately didn’t happen. The Moscow City Court overturned the verdict, released Rebrovsky on his own recognizance, and sent the case for retrial. This time, the prosecutor’s office requested a seven year prison sentence. In his final statement, he called it “revenge” for refusing to slander his friends.
During the hearing on October 29, state prosecutor Rustam Ivanov — a young man with a completely grey head of hair — takes the seat opposite Rebrovsky and his lawyer Maria Eismont. Instead of looking at them, he huddles over his phone. When Judge Vladimir Kuznetsov enters the courtroom, Ivanov goes over to the window. He stays glued to his phone for the next two and half hours.
Without taking off his medical mask, Judge Kuznetsov quickly reads out the verdict. It’s not much different than the text of the indictment. In November 2017, the judge reads, Rebrovsky and the other defendants in the case,“positioning themselves as opposition figures” against the Russian authorities, created a private chat group on Telegram, where they “expressed ideas about creating an extremist group.”
The group then met several times in person, the judge continues, at McDonald’s and the bar Killfish. They finally settled on establishing a group and allegedly came up with the name “The Future of Russia Today,” which they later changed to “New Greatness.” According to the verdict, they gave the group an emblem, a motto, and a charter, and even conducted training involving weapons and Molotov cocktails (apparently, Rebrovsky wasn’t involved in the training sessions). They rented an apartment to use as an office, attended two rallies, and even bought a printer for printing leaflets.
Rebrovsky, the judge continues reading, led the group’s “department of active operations,” which was in charge of the “organizing and carrying out direct action by force, aimed at overthrowing the current government and the constitutional order.”
Rebrovsky doesn't react to these statements. He’s either looking at the state prosecutor, or the journalists, or his things. Sometimes he sighs. His mother, a short woman with glasses, looks out a window that’s covered by white blinds. Rebrovsky’s lawyer Maria Eismont, on the other hand, doesn’t hide her emotions (she’s wearing a black mask with the word “intolerable”).
During the last hearing on October 22, Eismont explained in detail why her client was never an extremist and argued that the “Novoe Velichie” was nothing more than a provocation by the security forces. She challenged the prosecution’s reliance on a secret witness and the testimony of state operatives embedded in the group. Eismont said the extent of her client’s involvement in “Novoe Velichie” consisted of communicating in the Telegram chat and infrequently attending meetings. The group’s main task was to fulfill “an unmet need for communication, closeness, and acceptance,” the lawyer maintained.
In the end, the court disagreed with her. Judge Kuznetsov considered the testimony of the secret witness and the embedded operatives to be reliable. And he saw Rebrovsky’s refusal to plead guilty as an attempt “to avoid punishment.” The defendant’s previous confession formed the basis for the new verdict. However, at the request of the prosecutor’s office, the court dropped one of the two charges: it found Rebrovsky guilty of creating an extremist group, but of participating in one.
Judge Kuznetsov emphasizes that Rebrovsky must be taken into custody in the courtroom. Several officers from the State Penitentiary Service (FSIN) approach him immediately. Rebrovsky looks over at his mother and picks up his bags, which are taken from him quickly. They cuff his hands behind his back. He listens to his sentence, six years in prison, from behind the walls of the courtroom’s glass cell.
The court also rules that Rebrovsky is banned from posting anything on the Internet for a three year period, and concludes that he must undergo psychiatric treatment. Kuznetsov repeats his decision to Rebrovsky twice. The defendant replies that he understands everything and sits down on the bench.
The bailiffs ask everyone to leave the hall. Rebrovsky’s mother, Rimma Rebrovskaya, goes over to the glass cell and looks at her son. “Son, hold on, my dear, hold on!” she says, before leaving quickly. Rebrovsky nods.
In the hallway, Rimma Rebrovskaya tells Meduza’s correspondent that at first she regretted that her son refused to plead guilty, but then she changed her mind.
— Because [of] the injustice in our country!
Translated and abridged by Eilish Hart