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‘They didn’t even let our family say goodbye’ The FSB sent a terminally ill scientist from a hospital in Siberia to a prison in Moscow. Days later, he died in custody.

Source: Meduza
Dmitry Kolker's Facebook profile

On June 30, a Novosibirsk court arrested scientist Dmitry Kolker on suspicion of treason. Kolker, who had stage IV pancreatic cancer, was receiving treatment at a hospital in Novosibirsk; the authorities took him straight from the hospital to Moscow’s Lefortovo remand prison, where he died on July 2. Kolker’s lawyer, Alexander Fedulov, blames his client’s death on the FSB officers who arrested him, the medical staff who signed off on his remove from the hospital, and the judges who ordered his incarceration, knowing he was near death. Fedulov spoke to Meduza about his client’s case.

Dmitry Kolker was the head of a ​​quantum optical technologies lab at the Institute of Laser Physics at the Russian Academy of Sciences's Siberian branch and Novosibirsk State University, as well as a professor in the laser systems department at Novosibirsk State Technical University.

Kolker was arrested on June 30, 2022, for lectures on laser physics he delivered to Chinese students back in 2018. His son, Maxim Kolker, told that his father was charged with disclosing state secrets to China and was threatened with up to 20 years behind bars.

The presentation Dmitry Kolker used for his lectures, however, was declared to be free of state secrets after an inspection by experts from the Institute of Laser Physics before he traveled to China (Meduza has obtained a copy of their decision). In addition, Professor Kolker gave his lectures in China in Russian so that the FSB officers who accompanied Kolkin on his trip, could monitor their content. After Dmitry Kolker’s arrest, Maxim Kolker wrote on social media:

As a lecturer who has taken part in conferences, I can report that all reports, even poster displays, are checked and verified [...] to confirm that they don’t contain state secrets. [...]

I want my father to be able to die peacefully, in appropriately good conditions. Surrounded by the relatives he needs to help him and support him.

That evening, June 30, Dmitry Kolker was taken to Moscow’s Lefortovo remand prison directly from the private hospital where he’d been taken a day earlier in critical condition with terminal pancreatic cancer. On Friday, his lawyer, Alexander Fedulov, flew to Moscow to submit an order to the FSB’s investigation department to represent Kolker’s interests and get permission to meet with him.

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But a representative from the FSB’s investigation department told Fedulov that there was no record of Kolker’s case and that they didn’t know anything about him. “At the Lefortovo remand prison, they refused to speak to me. They said they wouldn’t give me any information about my client,” Fedulov told Meduza. “'Look for the investigator,' is what they literally told me when I showed them my certification. But where I was supposed to look was unclear.”

Fedulov went to the Lefortovo District Court, hoping Kolker would be brought there so the judge could issue an official arrest warrant. But when he arrived, he learned that Kolker had officially been arrested at Novosibirsk’s Sovetsky District Court because in his home district. The following day, July 2, 54-year-old Dmitry Kolker died at the Lefortovo remand prison; his family was officially notified of his death by telegram on July 3.

Alexander Fedulov told Meduza that he plans to file a report with the Prosecutor General in order to get access to the documents from Kolker’s case. “In addition to the warrant to search his apartment, which was done by V. Morozov, I haven’t seen a single document from the case,” said Fedulov. “And neither has anybody else, other than the people who signed the documents. Rather than citing the official ruling to open a treason case or the official arrest warrant, the media has been using information from Dmitry Kolker’s relatives’ social media pages.”

Fedulov, like the other people close to Kolker, doesn't want the criminal case to end because of Kolker’s death; he intends to proceed to trial and prove Kolker's innocence.

“And beyond that, we’ll find the true cause of his death. In particular, [we'll determine] whether he was given adequate medical care while he was being transferred to Moscow and detained in the remand prison,” said Fedulov. “With fourth stage cancer, he essentially needed constant treatment, including strong painkillers and intravenous feeding.”

According to Fedulov, he plans on getting Kolker’s arrest order soon so that he can appeal it immediately. “I’m ready to defend my client’s good name even after his death,” he told Meduza. “As well as to seek punishment for the people responsible for his untimely death in prison.”

Fedulov doesn’t just blame the officers who arrested Kolker for his death; he also blames the judge who authorized Kolker's incarceration despite his stage IV cancer, as well as the medical workers who signed the document allowing him to be taken from Novosibirsk to Moscow. By law, the judge was required to consider Kolker’s health; Fedulov, though, believes that law enforcement simply wanted to arrest Kolker as soon as possible:

In our country, there’s an entire list of diseases and conditions that exempt people from being arrested at all, not to mention detaining them in remand prisons. In this case, that regulation was grossly violated. The session to determine what restraint measures would be taken was conducted quietly and quickly, with a court-appointed lawyer who was partial to the investigation.

After that, they pulled [Kolker] out of the hospital and took him to Lefortovo remand prison, somehow getting a discharge order from the clinic (a day after his hospitalization) and permission to transport him by plane. The egregious fact of that [violation of the law] by the clinic’s medical personnel is something else we intend to investigate.

Meduza sent a request to the clinic where Kolker was being treated, but at the time of publication, they hadn't responded.

Fedulov claims that the law enforcement officers who arrested Kolker clearly understood that Kolker's condition meant he didn’t have long to live. The decision to send Kolker to prison, Fedulov said, was a “purposeful, inhumane act intended to serve as an example to others.”

“What’s the purpose of taking someone away when you can see that he’s dying? When you understand you’re not going to reach the end of the case?” said Fedulov. “To me, it was completely obvious that we weren’t going to get to his sentencing. But these days, of course, it’s hard to be surprised.”

On June 3, after the news of Kolker’s death broke, an improvised memorial appeared in Novosibirsk next to a monument to one of the past heads of the ​​Siberian branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, with photographs of Kolker, flowers, and quotes from a post his son made on social media:

The FSB killed my father, knowing what state he was in, and pulled him out of the hospital. Thank you, country!!! They didn’t even let our family say goodbye. The investigator, the Novosibirsk judge, and the entire government machine! I hope you pay for what you’ve done. It only took you two days to kill a person.

The memorial was dedicated to another scientist, too: 75-year-old Anatoly Maslov, chief scientist at the same institution’s Institute of Theoretical and Applied Mechanics, who is currently being held in the same prison under the same charges brought against Kolker. “It’s not too late to save Anatoly Maslov,” read a message at the memorial. “If you’ve been waiting for the time to do the right thing, it’s here.”

The memorial’s creators are also demanding an end to the “tyranny of the security forces” and collecting money to pay for Kolker’s funeral and his family’s legal services. “When famous scientists are dying in remand prisons, that’s an extremely bad sign for our country’s historical development,” said Alexander Fedulov.

The memorial to Kolker stayed up for less than a day. By the evening of July 3, a plaque with the scientists’ photographs had been removed from the memorial, and policemen began patrolling the area. The next day, July 4, local residents set up a new memorial for Kolker, this one next to a monument to mathematician Mikhail Lavrentyev, but it, too, was quickly destroyed by the authorities.

Story by Maria Dubrovskaya

Abridged translation by Sam Breazeale

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