Under Putin’s repressive laws, Russian activists find a way to organise

By Anna Smirnova


THE RUSSIAN government is abusing its legal system at an alarming rate – but activists are still finding ways to organise underground.

The nation’s counter-terrorism law – initially passed to encourage Russia’s battle against terrorism and protect human rights – is just one of many legislations that the Russian government has abused.

While free speech remains an article in the constitution, the State Duma continues to sign new legislation and exploit dated laws to subdue growing resistance from Russian citizens.

Activists find it increasingly challenging to navigate Russia’s legal system, which the government harnesses to fabricate cases against citizens who threaten the interests of Vladmir Putin’s inner circle.

When security forces kidnapped political activist Evgeniya Shamina’s friends in Kaliningrad, she devised an action plan.

“Until 2018, I didn’t have much experience with human rights activism, but then I got a phone call from my friends. They said that they got arrested, questioned, and searched. Things were bad,” Shamina told Redaction Report.

The case centred around anarchist Vichislav Lukichev, who was placed in a
detention center for a Telegram post he wrote about Mikhail Zhlobitskiy, the man who executed a terrorist attack on an FSB building in Arkhangelsk.

In his manifesto, Lukichev wrote about the attack stemming from the burgeoning repression within Russia’s political system. After spending four months in the detention center, he was liberated for a fine of 300,000 rubles instead of a prison sentence.

Shamina said: “I started trying to figure out what to do on the go. We needed money and a lawyer.

“This experience gave me an action plan that I could use later on to help others.”

Since then, Shamina has started an unofficial support organization to prevent fellow activists from experiencing helplessness, confusion, and fear.

[READ MORE: Russian students remain tentatively hopeful of defying Putin’s regime]

The group finds legal support, provides necessary funding, and helps lawyers write their line of defence.

In many cases, activists face legal consequences for the first time and are
acquainted with the Russian jury in traumatizing circumstances, relying on support groups like Shamina’s for guidance.

In 2020, after contacting his wife, Shamina took on the case of artist and activist Maksim Smolnikov.

Writing a post about Zhlobitskiy on the Russian social media platform, Vkontakte, Smolnikov was also placed in a detention center, coming out with an art line inspired by the experience while in captivity.

He is now under the prohibition of specific actions, and his future remains
uncertain, though there is a possibility that he will be let off with a fine.

Shamina’s organization continues to act as a helping hand in cases where legal and monetary support is needed.

Some of her most recent ventures have been fundraising for teen anarchists (accused of terrorism for arranging the bombing of an FSB building in Minecraft) and raising awareness about Yulia Tsvetkova, an artist who has been under investigation for drawing female genitalia.

Organizations like Shamina’s have become increasingly valuable to Russia’s opposition movement, as the Russian government continues to create a plethora of laws that primarily serve as a safety net for the state’s interests.

Many of them, such as the law on “justifying terrorism,” threaten freedom of expression by remaining hauntingly vague and intimidating citizens into
self-censorship.

“When there started to be cases on justifying terrorism, it was shocking. It was unclear what we could talk about on the internet and in a public space. For almost any case, you can match up a law that will allow them to fabricate a suit. If this law doesn’t exist, they’ll make another.” Shamina explained.

Russians find that facing fabricated criminal cases with no support system or action plan often leads to a longer prison sentence.

The mutual fear that Russian citizens face is that the government will one day pinpoint them as a target, identifying them as their next victim with no rationale.

Thus, activists—unaware of which one of them will be detained next—construct support groups, forming networks of camaraderie and connections amongst each other to safeguard Russia’s opposition community.

You can follow Evgeniya on Instagram at @shaminoid.


Featured Image: Putnik @ Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0)

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