One Russia is in prison, the other is the judge

There’s not many of these people, but they’re very public. They hold pickets, write postcards to people in detention, collect funds and food for people in prison, organise flash mobs online, and attend the courts. People used to view them as mad people who didn’t pose much of a threat, but now, after all the brutality of the past year, it’s a front. “But what’s the point?” I ask Vlad Barabanov, an activist who also mixed up in the Moscow case. He’s also come to Penza for the verdict. “They didn’t care about you at all,” I continue.

“But what’s the point of sitting and waiting?” Vlad is an anarchist, and is from the same anti-authoritarian scene a Pchelintsev, Shakursky and the rest of the defendants. But he’s not a member of a political party. He support everyone: Konstantin Kotov, New Greatness, The Network.

Everything has changed. Ilya Shakursky holds a single picket in support of Konstantin Kotov in the courtroom itself. Alexey Minyailo, Pavel Ustinov and Samariddin Radzhabov – who were all convicted in the Moscow Case – record a video in support of the Network Case. Lev Ponomarev, an old liberal human rights defender, attends rallies with red banners and opposition left activists. This isn’t your weekend opposition types, this is a front. They are resisting over months, years.

It’s another question of how effective the resistance is. Alexandra Krylenko is a rights defender who’s been involved in the Network case since 2018. She writes:

“Just don’t write that this is all pointless. We don’t measure how useful it is in terms of prison sentences. It would be strange if we went out on pickets, gave out information and everyone was released. If it was like that, we wouldn’t have to fight. That kind of victory isn’t worth anything.

We’re fighting for these guys not because we want these fluffy kittens back. They were taken hostage by cruel and heartless people. It’s the person who stands up against the blows who wins.

These past few years we’ve learned not to leave people on their own. So that every individual (and what’s more important – every wife, mother, father, brother and sister) did not have to face a prison sentence alone. So that there was someone beside you, someone who would hug you, hold your hand or just look you in the eye. It’s hard to believe it, but that didn’t exist just a short while ago. This is a real victory. A victory for care and support.”

No one should be alone

Aside from a 16-year prison sentence, Ilya Shakursky also received a fine of 50,000 roubles. Which is a particularly cynical move. None of the seven defendants are from rich families. Penza is, in general, a poor town, but the prices are like Moscow. Back in 2018, when the case first started, many of the families took loans to pay for their lawyers.

But now pay attention. Elena Bogatova, Shakursky’s mother, has a monthly wage of around 15,000 roubles (£180), Vasily Kuksov’s mother – 10,000 (£120). They talk about it in the Malyshevs’ documentary on the case. The forensic analyses in the case cost around a million roubles (£12,100.

You don’t have to believe in pickets, in public protest, street actions, but what really works is supporting the parents. And it worked in this case. A few days before the sentence was issued, journalists from a media run by Kremlin businessman Evgeny Prigozhin attacked a Petersburg politician, Maxim Reznik, because he participated in a charity auction to taise money for the Penza defendants. And they attacked with purpose: they sent an official parliamentary information request and a letter to the Prosecutor’s Office. Apparently this is called “supporting terrorists”. If I give Shakursky’s mother 5,000 roubles (£60) towards a care package for her son, does that mean I’m supporting terrorism or not? Maybe I’m a terrorist myself?

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