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Alexey Gorinov on trial in Moscow. July 8, 2022.

‘Do you still need this war?’ Moscow official Alexey Gorinov handed seven years in prison for ‘disinformation’ about Russia’s military

Source: Meduza
Alexey Gorinov on trial in Moscow. July 8, 2022.
Alexey Gorinov on trial in Moscow. July 8, 2022.
Kirill Kudryavtsev / AFP / Scanpix / LETA

On July 8, a Moscow court sentenced municipal deputy Alexey Gorinov to seven years in prison for spreading “false information” about the Russian army. The 60-year-old was charged with violating military censorship laws introduced after Russia’s February 2022 invasion of Ukraine. His crime? Calling the invasion a war during a session of the local assembly where he is a deputy. Throughout the trial, Gorinov insisted that his statements reflected nothing more than his personal opinion. But Judge Olesya Mendeleeva, who has presided over a number of high-profile cases, found him guilty nevertheless. Gorinov’s verdict marks the first time a Russian court has sent anyone to prison for sharing “disinformation” about the military. Here is his story.

Standing inside the “defendants cage” in Moscow’s Meshchansky District Court on July 8, municipal deputy Alexey Gorinov held a creased paper sign up against the glass. The sign had a simple message: “Do you still need this war?”

The court bailiffs tried to block journalists and spectators from seeing the sign. Every now and then, Gorinov tried to hold it up a little higher. This wasn’t easy — his hands were cuffed.

The 60-year-old was on trial for allegedly spreading “deliberately false information” about the army — a felony charge brought against him for calling Russia’s war against Ukraine a war. The day before, a state prosecutor had asked the court to sentence Gorinov to seven years in prison. 

‘How can we talk about a children’s drawing contest?’

Alexey Gorinov has long been known in Moscow as a human rights activist and public defender. Activist Mikhail Kriger recalled Gorinov showing up to police stations and courtrooms to offer his services on days when the authorities carried out mass arrests. “When the activists under his care were released from the police station around midnight, he [Gorinov] drove them home in his car. It was like that with me,” Kriger said. 

In 2017, Gorinov was elected to the Krasnoselsky Council of Deputies, a local assembly in Moscow. And it was during a session of this local council that he made the statement that would lead to his arrest. On March 15, Gorinov asked the council: 

“How can we talk about a children’s drawing contest for Children’s Day, or organizing dance recitals for Victory Day when there are children dying every day? For your information, I will say that nearly 100 children have already died in Ukraine, and that every day, more children are being orphaned. The grandchildren and great-grandchildren of World War II survivors have been thrown into the fire of these combat operations. I believe that all of the efforts of our civil society should be directed exclusively at stopping the war and getting the Russian troops out of Ukraine.”

Krasnoselsky Municipal District

Municipal Deputy Elena Kotenochkina supported Gorinov’s speech. On April 25, the authorities brought charges against both councilors for spreading “fake news” about the armed forces. At this point, Kotenochkina had already fled abroad (she was arrested in absentia and placed on an international wanted list). Gorinov, who had remained in Russia, was indicted five days later, on May 1. 

Gorinov never retracted his anti-war statements — neither during the course of the investigation, nor in court. And he insisted that everything he said during the council meeting was his “personal opinion and conviction.” Gorinov’s lawyer Sergey Telnov told Meduza that state investigators had accused his client and Elena Kotenochkina of acting as part of a premeditated “criminal conspiracy.”

“I do not need to collude with someone in order to express my opinion,” Gorinov said in court on June 21. The municipal deputy noted that he was arrested at an anti-war protest on February 24, the day Russia began its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, and jailed until March 11. As a result, Gorinov said, he hadn’t been following the Russian Defense Ministry’s official briefings.

Russia’s laws on military censorship are worded such that any information about the war against Ukraine that doesn’t reflect the official stance of the Russian authorities can be considered “disinformation.” 

‘Tablets and nothing else’

On April 27, Alexey Gorinov was moved to Moscow’s infamous Matrosskaya Tishina remand prison. Three days later, one of Gorinov’s lawyers, Katerina Tertukhina, reported that her client had developed a cough and a fever, and wasn’t being treated. “The [prison] staff gave him [his] last three Bromhexine tablets and nothing else,” Tertukhina said. 

“At home, I would get better in one night,” Gorinov wrote in a letter. A year earlier, the deputy had fallen ill with the coronavirus. He was diagnosed with tuberculosis and had part of his lung removed. Nevertheless, the judge presiding over his case — the Meshchansky District Court’s Olesya Mendeleeva — repeatedly refused to release him from pre-trial custody. (Mendeleeva sided with state prosecutors who argued that Gorinov might “put pressure on witnesses” or “abscond from the investigation”.) 

Kirill Kudryavtsev / AFP / Scanpix / LETA

Judge Mendeleeva has presided over a number of high-profile cases. In 2020, for example, she handed down the guilty verdicts in the controversial “Seventh Studio” case against well-known director Kirill Serebrennikov and his colleagues. In 2021, she released four defendants on bail who had been charged over a fatal attack on left-wing and anti-fascist activist Alexey “Socrates” Sutuga. 

Be that as it may, despite numerous requests from the deputy and his defense lawyers, Mendeleeva kept Alexey Gorinov in a glass-walled “defendants cage” throughout his trial — even when she was announcing the verdict.

The verdict

The criminal case against Alexey Gorinov was opened shortly after State Duma deputies Alexander Khinshtein (United Russia) and Oleg Leonov (New People) filed a complaint with state prosecutors. But the lawmakers did not appear as witnesses during the trial. In fact, they aren’t mentioned in the case at all. 

Thirteen witnesses were supposed to testify on behalf of the prosecution, but Gorinov’s lawyer Sergey Telnov said that in the end, only two were summoned to appear in court (apparently, “this often happens”). They testified during a closed-door hearing — a decision Judge Mendeleeva made following reports that the witnesses were facing “psychological pressure from Gorinov’s supporters.”

The prosecutor, Svetlana Zhuravleva, also cited the conclusions of expert witnesses as evidence of Gorinov’s guilt. According to Sergey Telnov, however, some of the experts’ conclusions were actually in favor of the defense. A specialist from the Justice Ministry’s Center for Forensic Science, for example, concluded that Gorinov’s address to the local assembly only contained one statement of fact: the number of children who had died amid Russia’s war in Ukraine. The rest of Gorinov’s speech, the expert said, reflected his own opinion or value judgments. 

In turn, lawyer Katerina Tertukhina referred to statistics from the UN Human Rights Office confirming 79 child casualties from the war as of March 12 (three days before Gorinov made his address). 

Kirill Kudryavtsev / AFP / Scanpix / LETA

Judge Mendeleeva didn’t take the expert’s conclusions into account. Before delivering the verdict, she announced a five-minute recess and left the courtroom. The bailiffs then forcibly removed all of the spectators from the room for giving Gorinov a standing ovation. The deputy took advantage of the recess to talk to his wife and son. The verdict, he told them, was likely decided well in advance. 

Judge Mendeleeva soon returned. She read out the verdict: seven years in a penal colony (just as the prosecution had requested) and four-year ban on holding public office. 

“Gorinov, do you understand the verdict?” the judge asked. 

“Yes, but I’m surprised, why so much [prison time]?” he replied.

Gorinov then added: “They took spring from me, they took summer from me, and now they’ve also taken seven years of my life.” 

Story by Kristina Safonova. English-language summary by Eilish Hart. 

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