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‘It took only four false witnesses to ruin my life’ In an open letter from jail, blogger Yuri Khovansky shares how investigators are pressuring his loved ones

Source: Meduza

Blogger Yuri Khovansky, currently in pre-trial detention on charges of justifying terrorism, penned an open letter from jail, where he has been since June. In the text, Khovansky says investigators threatened him with serious prison time when he refused a plea bargain. Officers also allegedly promised “problems” for his girlfriend, Maria Nelyubova (who spoke about this before). Khovansky says the authorities suggested that they would plant drugs on her. Meduza is publishing a translation of Khovansky’s letter. 

This is an open letter to the media, to fellow bloggers, and to those people who are not indifferent about my fate. My name is Yuri Khovansky and I have been confined to pre-trial detention for half a year on charges of justifying terrorism. Nine years ago, in 2012, I made an indecent and regrettable joke by writing the song that has landed me behind bars. Since then, I’ve apologized countless times, expressed deep regret, and donated to a fund for victims of terrorism. I can’t claim that I acted morally, but from a legal point of view, the statute of limitations for my wrongdoing has expired. Article 205.2, which I am charged with, only became law in 2016. This is well known to me, to you, and to the investigators who have kept me jailed and continue to do so, month after month. 

I was prepared to face legal consequences for the song I wrote, but there is no justice in how my case is unfolding. It is widely known that I performed the song in 2012, but the investigation refuses to accept this fact, since it would imply my immediate release, which would be unacceptable. Instead of investigating the crime, the state has simply changed the time of the events to 2018, with the help of some pliant witnesses. 

Four mentally unstable people testified that they saw me perform the song in 2018. I found their testimony laughable, but when I read it, I didn’t want to laugh — I wanted to cry. The court accepted their drivel without even raising an eyebrow. At the same time, defense lawyers submitted multiple pieces of evidence proving that the performance was in 2012. The court ignored these materials. The scales of justice are balanced on one side by notarized facts, and on the other by testimonies of people who don’t understand what a “livestream” is. Oddly, all four witnesses are from St. Petersburg, which is quite convenient for the local investigators. 

I hoped that I could dispute these matters substantively, but the lead investigator on my case recently visited me in jail. This visit was secret and unknown to my lawyers, and he offered me a deal with the following conditions:

  1. I must testify that I performed the song in 2018.
  2. I must dismiss my lawyers. 
  3. I must accept their lawyers. 

If I fulfilled these conditions, prosecutors would drop their ceaseless inquiries and send the case to court, where I would be fined but regain my freedom. If I refused the deal, they would depict me as uncooperative and sentence me to prison. I’ve already trusted this investigator before (he promised to release me under house arrest if I gave them the evidence they needed and waived my right against self-incrimination under Article 51 of the Russian Constitution). This time, I told him I no longer believed him, and I refused to confess to something that I had not done.

In response, the investigator gave me two days to mull it over and added that my refusal would mean problems for both myself and my beloved Masha. Detectives had already threatened to plant drugs on her if she didn’t withdraw her complaint. Two days later, the investigator sent my computers away for further analysis, even though this was already done (not at the police headquarters, but by the Federal Security Service). My lawyers are still unable to get any documentation about this inquiry and their requests are flatly denied. The investigator also barred my counsel from accompanying me throughout the investigation — an unprecedented violation of my constitutional rights; fellow inmates are in disbelief that such a state of affairs is even possible. But now I understand that anything can happen with these people in charge of the Federal Investigative Committee. 

I’m scared, and I don’t know what to do. I was afraid of jail before, but I’ve never had to be afraid for my loved ones on the other side of the fence. I couldn’t fathom that, in Russia, in 2021, an investigator can openly threaten the family of an accused person while demanding a false confession. It’s not Stalin’s times, I thought. Now I’m not sure what to think.

I ask — no, I beg — for help. Don’t let them hurt my family. Don’t let them plant something on my computer or imprison me based on a false testimony. The law must be followed, even when it comes to people you might not like. I haven’t been the most righteous person when free, but is that a reason to justify the NKVD-like tactics to which I’m subjected? Consider this: I have an online audience of 4.5 million subscribers, and a mere four false witnesses are enough to ruin my life. How many will they need to ruin yours? 

Every third inmate in jail is here thanks solely to the testimony of such “witnesses.” This could be your husband, your brother, or your son. This isn’t about just my fate; how far we allow state investigators to go is what’s at stake. After all, anyone can check a Web archive to confirm that I performed the song in 2012. It’s unacceptable that judges look at black and conclude that it is white. People must be judged by the law, not by the social impact that a case may have. We can’t allow these werewolves in uniform to threaten our loved ones. I plead with you: Help me! Without you, they will murder me, plain and simple.

Translation by Nikita Buchko

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