Russia: Prosecution for membership of a non-existent “terrorist” organization must stop

Seven young men standing trial in Penza (Central Russia) on absurd “terror” charges must be immediately released and the charges against them dropped, Amnesty International urged ahead of the verdict on 10 February. The defendants, mostly left-wing political activists, are accused of participating in a non-existent “terrorist organization” called “Network” and face up to 18 years in prison if found guilty.

“These terror charges are a figment of the Russian security services’ imagination that was fabricated in an attempt to silence these activists. The trial has been a sham – the men say their confessions were extracted by torture and the so-called evidence is contradicted by the facts,” said Natalia Prilutskaya, Amnesty International Russia’s Researcher.

“It is clear from the trial that no criminal organization called “Network” has ever existed. What has probably existed is a loose group of young like-minded people interested in playing airsoft. There is no evidence linking them to terrorism-related activities.”

“This case is the latest politically-motivated abuse of the justice system to target young people. The allegations of torture and ill-treatment must be investigated, the men must be released, and the Russian government must stop resorting to fabricating criminal charges to silence all dissent.”

 Background

On 10 February, the Privolzhsky District Military Court in Penza (Central Russia) is expected to deliver its verdict in the case against Dmitry Pchelintsev, Ilya Shakursky, Andrei Chernov, Maksim Ivankin, Mikhail Kulkov, Vasily Kuksov and Arman Sagynbaev. They have been charged with several terrorism-related offenses, including “creating a terrorist organization”, “participation in a terrorist organization”, illegal possession of arms and in the case of three of them, possession of drugs.

Two more defendants, Victor Filinkov and Yuliy Boyarshinov, are standing trial in St Petersburg in a related trial. In 2018, Amnesty International expressed concerns about use of torture and other ill-treatment against them, and about their enforced disappearance during transfer by the penitentiary service from St Petersburg to Penza.