We’ll clench our teeth and go through it

I look at the mothers of the other men on trial and tell myself: “This is my brother and I worry so much. What must a mother feel when it is her son on trial?”

An interview with Ksenia Kosenko, sister of Mikhail Kosenko, one of three Russian prisoners of conscience featured in Amnesty’s global Write for Rights campaign.

Letters matterMikhail says he’s already received many letters of support and will try to reply to every person who wrote to him. The letters are very important to him.

He told me about a letter from the UK where, not quite correctly but very diligently, somebody wrote several phrases of support in Russian, and he smiled a little at last. The letters he receives often come with lines stroked through by a censor.

When I first visited him in detention, I left crying. But the last time I saw him [on 1 November], he smiled at me from the glass cabin with a phone receiver in his hand. It means he is well. It was so nice to hear his voice.

I told him about Amnesty International’s December actions around the world to support the Bolotnaya detainees. He sighed and said: “I know we are supported, but it is very difficult to feel it in this information vacuum. And I need it so much.”

Depressed, not dangerousMikhail was a very quiet boy, very diligent. Our father taught him to play chess and he would always win. He is still quite a good player. When he was a little boy, I would look after him. And it turns out I’m doing the same now.

He was one of the best students in his class, but after school he wanted to be like everybody else and do the [obligatory] military service. We tried to dissuade him, but he packed his bags and went to the army.

Military service changed his life. Those were tough years. Hazing [beating and humiliating young recruits by older soldiers] was widespread. Maybe because he was a bit more educated than the rest, he stood out. He was beaten up and harassed, and invalided out after a year.

He started studying history at university, but then we couldn’t afford it anymore. Those were very difficult and hungry years. Little by little, his illness started to show.

He wasn’t dangerous – he was depressed and became less communicative. This was enough to be diagnosed with a mental health disorder and classified as disabled. But he always looked after himself, had interests and hobbies. There were never any fights or serious arguments. He is an intelligent, well-informed person.

Arrested at Bolotnaya SquareHe went to Bolotnaya Square because he thought the election results were rigged. He knew no one there. He is not a civil society activist. Police detained people indiscriminately, for shouting slogans or objecting to the police beating demonstrators. When some people started to fight with a police officer, Misha [Mikhail’s nickname] just stood there, trying to shield himself.

He was taken to the police station and they took a photo of him. When a decision was taken to open a criminal case into “mass riots” at Bolotnaya Square, they started to compare their photos with the video footage. They had a photo, they found a video, and interpreted them in a certain way. That was it: the charges were ready.

On 7 June they came and arrested him again. I was only allowed to see him once in two months after his arrest, after the psychiatric “experts” found him to be “mentally incapacitated” and I was appointed as his lawful representative.

Not allowed to attend his mother’s funeralOur mother had serious heart problems and it became clear that she would die soon. I believed that my brother had the right to know. But my letter was returned with a censor’s mark. I wrote again but the letter was returned once again.

When our mother died, our lawyers asked the court to release Mikhail to attend his mother’s funeral. The Novaya Gazeta newspaper was ready to vouch for him and provide transport. I postponed the funeral and sent a telegramme to the Head of the pre-trial detention centre, but they refused.

Misha found out on the TV news that our mother had died and that he was not allowed to go to her funeral. That same week we had a court hearing. I was very scared. Misha had such dark circles under his eyes, such grief in his eyes.

I took my chair, put it next to the cage where he was kept, and even though it wasn’t permitted, started talking with him. He asked questions about the funeral and became calmer. Only then I could breathe out. He gets no psychological support in prison.

Indefinite detention in a psychiatric hospitalThe whole case was stitched up, that Misha is dangerous to himself and society [and sent for indefinite psychiatric treatment]. That was clearly an order from above and implemented in haste.

We know very little about what happens in a psychiatric hospital – it’s like a state within a state. Mikhail told me someone on his wing was given an injection and felt so bad that the prison guards couldn’t even drag him out of his cell when he had a visit. He is afraid that they will start using very strong medication and turn him into a vegetable.

Now he’s waiting for his appeal to go through. He worries about the other 12 people standing trial in the Bolotnaya case. He told me: “I will go through this stupid treatment, no problem. But if the others are released I’ll be so happy.” There is some fraternity among the people on trial.

Your support is very important to us, be it in any form: actions, information materials, awareness-raising, so people know what is going on. It would honestly be impossible to go through all this without your support. I have a feeling that the authorities do pay attention to opinions expressed by organizations and ordinary people, articles in the foreign media.

For the New Year, I wish everyone strength, endurance and good health; to clench their teeth and go through this and continue fighting for their loved ones in this completely unfair situation.

Please take action for Mikhail Kosenko and the other people featured in Write for Rights – Amnesty’s flagship annual campaign and the world’s biggest human rights event. This year it runs until 17 December, and is expected to garner more than two million individual actions worldwide.

Find out more

Free the Bolotnaya 3! (Feature)