When politics imitates TV Russian city councilman faces felony charges for celebrating scene from police drama
A man shows his friend a YouTube clip from a Russian police drama where the hero guns down a corrupt cop. Take that, buster! Long live the USSR! A few months later, the man — a troublesome local city council member — is charged with the felony of “justifying terrorism.” He says he’s being set up, however. In a special report for Mediazona, correspondent Maxim Litavrin traveled to the Pskov region to learn more about an investigation that could be its own television drama. Meduza summarizes thе report below.
For good reason, city council members in Ostrov, a town about 30 miles outside Pskov, both dislike and largely don’t understand Arkady Markov. The council’s only opposition member, Markov ran as a candidate from the political party Just Russia. A self-described Communist, Markov talks about “being sent by the gods” to work in politics. He calls himself a Soviet citizen and insists that the Russian Federation doesn’t technically exist, legally speaking. Markov calls his 14 fellow city council members — all from United Russia — an organized crime group, and he regularly mocks them for their ignorance about Russian laws. The head of Ostrov’s city council says Markov is an impossible colleague who advocates compliance with Soviet laws and constantly makes absurd statements.
With these tensions in mind, it’s little surprise that Arkady Markov has repeatedly faced charges for crimes he denies. Later this month, he will go on trial for “justifying terrorism” and advocating the violent overthrow of the state in comments he allegedly posted online in November 2016 when sharing a clip from a TV police drama. In the scene, the star of the show executes a corrupt FSB officer after forcing him at gunpoint to recite his oath to the USSR.
The evidence against Markov includes testimony from staff at Moscow State Linguistic University, who ran the television show’s script through automated “phono-semantic analysis” software and discovered that the main protagonist’s attitude qualifies as “evil.”
Markov denies ever writing the comments police attribute to him. He says the FSB bugged his office and filmed him showing the TV clip to a friend, and later recorded him talking about the show over the phone.
Police first charged Markov in March 2017, raiding his office and seizing his laptop and several books. The case was dropped in 2018, but three months later prosecutors reopened it, ignoring a rule that says they needed to do this within two weeks.
The lead investigator working Markov’s case is reportedly the same detective in charge of the case against Radio Liberty journalist Svetlana Prokopieva, who’s charged with justifying terrorism in remarks to a local radio station about the October 2018 Arkhangelsk FSB office bombing. “Now it’s us instead of Barnaul,” Markov’s lawyer, Roman Novitsky, told Mediazona. “Barnaul was the capital of extremism, and we’re becoming the capital of terrorism.”
Markov’s trial is scheduled to begin on February 19 at Pskov’s Regional Court, where judges from the Moscow District Military Court will preside, in accordance with a 2017 law restricting terrorism cases to Russia’s Moscow, North Caucasus, Volga, and Far Eastern district military courts.
Summary by Kevin Rothrock