April 6, 2018

A Series of Bloody Crimes. Participants in Opposition Actions Are Being Systematically Assaulted in St. Petersburg

Another wave of assaults on opposition activists has rolled through St. Petersburg. Among the victims are human rights activist Dinar Idrisov, Open Russia member Oleg Maksakov, Solidarity activist Vladimir Shipitsin, Artpodgotovka supporter Vladimir Ivaniutenko, and, possibly, the dead activist Konstantin Sinitsyn. All the victims figured on social networks in the Group of Unique People.

Another wave of assaults on opposition activists has rolled through St. Petersburg. Among the victims are human rights activist Dinar Idrisov, Open Russia member Oleg Maksakov, Solidarity activist Vladimir Shipitsin, Artpodgotovka supporter Vladimir Ivaniutenko, and, possibly, the dead activist Konstantin Sinitsyn. All the victims figured on social networks in the Group of Unique People.

Late last year, the community, which includes the names of St. Petersburg opposition activists, was exposed yet again, with publication of their registered and actual addresses and other contacts. Figuring in the Group of Unique People in particular were Dinar Idrisov, Oleg Maksakov, Vladimir Shipitsin, Vladimir Ivaniutenko, and other opposition activists. Subsequently, attacks were carried out against many of them. 

A similar website of similar orientation was uncovered back in 2016, and at that time other opposition activists who fell victim pointed out that detailed information about them had been published on the Whoiswhos.me website. The published information included all their personal information, up to and including addresses and bank card numbers. Sometimes an attack was preceded by threats from fake pages on social networks, and sometimes messages from trolls came in after an act of intimidation. An investigation by Fontanka established that the site with containing the personal data of bloggers critical of the regime was controlled by Evgeny Prigozhin’s “troll kitchen.” No links were ever found at the time between the attacks and the police “lists.” Now Roskomnadzor [Federal Supervision Agency for Information Technologies and Communications] has banned access to Whoiswhos.me. A year later, the situation has been repeated. As of today, thanks to the efforts of politician Boris Vishnevsky, the VKontakte team has blocked the page with the activists’ information. 

“Deputy Maksim Reznik and I have sent multiple complaints to law enforcement agencies regarding this site’s activity and have received jaw-dropping responses. Either we were informed that ‘the site is inaccessible’ (although I personally have had no problem visiting it) or the police ‘did not see a connection between the above-indicated criminal acts.’ Meanwhile, the Petersburg Internet publication Fontanka.ru even then had established a link between this site and the ‘troll factory’ of the not unknown ‘Kremlin chef’ Evgeny Prigozhin. I’m not going to say that Prigozhin is involved in the indicated site on VKontakte. But the fact that all these sites with blacklists are performing the same dirty role is obvious,” Boris Vishnevsky says. 

As of today, if you attempt to follow the link, you get a message that “The community has been blocked in connection with a possible violation of site rules.” 

Oleg Maksakov 

The latest member of the “Group of Unique People” to be attacked in St. Petersburg is Oleg Maksakov, a member of the Open Russia movement. On Monday, 19 February, two men were waiting for him as he came out of an elevator. He could not make out their faces since the bandits had covered them with scarves. 

“One of them dealt me a blow that caused me to lose consciousness. While I was unconscious they continued to beat me. I came to in the elevator, walked to my apartment and called an ambulance and the police. The policemen took my statement, and soon an ambulance came to take me to the hospital, where I spent several days,” said Oleg. 

Earlier, Oleg’s wife had seen the attackers. Half an hour before the attack, she had gone to take the dog for a walk and noticed two men hanging out in the stairwell, obviously waiting for someone. “It put her on her guard, but no one could have suspected how it would all end. A woman was with them who got into the elevator with my wife, trying to get into a conversation with her and get as close as possible to our apartment. I presume her role was that of informer, to determine that I had left the apartment and to tell the other two. I was leaving the apartment as my wife got off at our floor with the other woman. I said goodbye to my wife and went to the elevator,” Oleg remembers. 

Oleg is convinced that the attack on him was only part of a plan to hunt down opposition figures: “What unites all of us are our opposition views. There were analogous incidents in 2016 — first people received threats on social media. Then journalists from Fontanka conducted an investigation. They revealed that the messages came from Prigozhin’s ‘troll factory.’ It is possible that again it is people associated with him.” 

Oleg believes that “most likely, it is the same person behind all the attacks.” As of now, Oleg’s condition is complicated by a cold with a high fever. The hospital’s neurosurgery department diagnosed a mild concussion. “I have been helped very much by people’s kindness and sympathy. I will continue everything that I did before, even double and with new enthusiasm — what happened has only rallied us and made us angrier,” said Maksakov. Although Oleg is convinced there is no hope for an objective investigation under the current regime, he filed a report with the police. At present, an investigation is being conducted, but the police are not revealing any of their findings, citing confidentiality. 

Dinar Idrisov 

At the beginning of this year on Proletarian Dictatorship Square, during the Voters' Strike on 28 January, human rights defender Dinar Idrisov was brutally attacked by three strangers. Dinar’s arm and cheekbone were broken, he sustained a closed head injury, concussion and other severe bruising. 

The human rights defender was live streaming the protest on his Facebook page. When the crowd headed off from Smolny along Tver Street, Dinar set off with them. The street was blocked off at that point by prison vans. Dinar decided that he needed to film what was happening from above. He went into a building to the left of the direction the convoy was heading, along with a woman. It was a building on the junction of Tver and Odessa streets. 

“I climbed to the top floors and decided to ring at the apartments and ask if they would let me in to do some filming,” Dinar relates. “No one opened up, and I headed back down. In the lobby, on the ground floor, I saw three men chatting amongst themselves. In front of me a woman came out from the entrance and went past them. Maybe I should have been more wary, but I set off briskly past them anyway, and that's when someone kicked me in the shins. I fell to my knees and right after that took a blow to the temple. By that point the woman had already left. Luckily, I was able to react and the blow only glanced me, so I didn't lose consciousness. They all piled on top of me and started beating me up." 

The attackers grabbed and broke two phones that the human rights defender had on him, and the camera that he had been using to stream. After that, they began to hit him in the head methodically, mainly kicking him. Dinar tried to defend himself by putting his arm up, and they broke it. Suddenly, the beating was interrupted by the footsteps of some people coming down from upstairs. At this, the three men headed outside, leaving the human rights defender in the entrance. The residents took Dinar back to their place. In their apartment, he came to and had a wash. 

"Then the doorbell rang,” Dinar recalls. “I reckoned those people must have started looking for me and were going around, floor by floor. That tells me that they weren't thugs but police operatives. They beat me up like professionals. If that first blow to the temple hadn't been glancing, then it may well have proved fatal. The residents of the apartment didn't answer the doorbell and didn't open the door. Later, one of them went out for a recce and, when they were sure that it was safe, they led me out through the back entrance of the building.” 

After his experience, Dinar did not call the police or ambulance, and made his own way to A&E, then to a centre for facial trauma, and from there to the maxillofacial surgery unit of the hospital. The doctors diagnosed a fracture to the left cheekbone and bone fragments. They likewise suspected damage to the retina, but the eye turned out to be intact. On the right side, there was a haematoma in the temporal region, a closed brain injury and concussion. His arm was broken and required a complex operation and a pin. There was bruising to his chest and lumbar-sacral section – it was painful to sit, stand up or lie down. His ribs and internal organs were all intact. "You could say I was lucky, as all my internal organs are intact, " says Dinar, smiling. 

On Monday, 29 January, a local police officer from the 76th Police Precinct of the Central District came to visit the victim in hospital. The police officer compiled an incident report on the crime. Dinar requested that a criminal case be opened and sent over to the Investigative Committee for the preliminary investigation. His reasoning for this was that force had been used against a person engaged in social, journalistic and human rights activity. 

"I've been recognised as a victim but not yet interviewed as one. As far as I know, the CCTV recordings haven't yet been retrieved by the police. There's no proof, and now a second district investigating officer is carrying out inquiries. I'm hoping to see her next week", says Dinar. 

Vladimir Ivaniutenko 

On 27 December in the early morning Artpodgotovka activist Vladimir Ivaniutenko was walking along a street in the Kirov district of St Petersburg to the polyclinic. It was still dark and there were no people about at all. Vladimir heard somebody running after him and stood aside a little so as to let them pass. A second later, he received a blow to the head. 

"I seized the attacker by the hand and saw an electroshocker. At that moment a second man ran up to me. He tried to hurt me with a combat knife. At one moment he succeeded in striking me and I received a cut with the knife that pierced my liver and spleen. When I stepped back, I slipped, and fell on my back. That was when the attacker with the electroshocker held me. At that moment his accomplice with the knife struck me a second time in the area of my heart. After that the man with the electroshocker said calmly in Russian, and without any accent: "Well, let's go". 

The whole attack lasted no more than three minutes. The attackers turned round and quickly left. A random passer-by called the police and an ambulance to the scene. The police were the first to arrive and had time to interrogate the victim before the arrival of doctors. He was able to describe the attackers. They looked around 40-45 years old, ethnic Europeans. The first one was strongly built, approximately 1,85 m tall, wearing a dark jacket, trousers of the same colour, and a black cap. The second was thin, around 1,75 m tall, wearing a blue jacket, dark trousers, and a dark knitted cap. 

"They didn't take anything from me, neither money, nor telephone. They didn't even ask what I had on me. They set about killing me in a business-like manner," Vladimir stressed. 

The ambulance team took the wounded person to the Kostushko hospital where it turned out that he had injuries to his liver, spleen and the intercostal artery in the area of the heart. He also had numerous other cuts and bruises. The doctors saved Ivaniutenko's life. On 10 January he was released from hospital. The morning of the same day he was interrogated by an investigator. A criminal investigation has been opened under Article 11 of the Russian Criminal code, "Intentional infliction of severe bodily harm with the use of weapons". 

The victim suspects, in the first place, that his attackers were members of the National Liberation Movement (NOD) or “Novorossy” [supporters of the creation of "Novorossiya" in eastern Ukraine]. Ivaniutenko asserts that representatives of both groups often expressed dissatisfaction with his political views, his attitude towards Ukraine, the Crimea and Syria. 

Vladimir recalls: "Novorossy often wrote to me via social networks: ‘What we spill our blood for in Gorlovka?’ and ‘It’s time to put this fat boar to the knife’." 

Ivaniutenko’s lawyer, Vladimir Belyakov, insists that the investigators consider all possible explanations for the attack. 

Vladimir Shipitsyn 

Member of the movement “Solidarity St. Petersburg,” Vladimir Shipitsyn regularly protests in St. Petersburg. He organises protests against aggression against Ukraine and repressions against Crimean Tatars, and in defence of political prisoners. On his social web pages Vladimir actively criticises the politics of the current government. According to the activist, on the morning of 25 October he returned home from the train station after a trip abroad. “Approaching my home, I saw a suspicious “southern-looking” man, around 35-40 years old. He came towards me at a entrance and sprayed something in my face, and then started to hit me with a knuckleduster. I fell to the ground and tried to ask him why. 

The person apparently from the Caucasus said: “Don’t write any more **** about good people. You know whom I have in mind. Next time will be worse for you!” 

Afterwards the assailant took a photograph of the victim on his phone and made off. As soon as Vladimir came to, he immediately phoned the police. To tell the truth, they did not hurry to take a statement – they first recommended he seek medical help. In the hospital they diagnosed bruising and head injuries, which they consequently stitched up. 

“The doctor said that the important head areas were not affected,” said the activist. “The beating was done professionally, skilfully in order to scare, but not kill.” 

On the evening of that same day the victim contacted the 58th police department. It turned out that they weren’t taking any more statements that day, and he was advised to come back the next day. 

Vladimir Shipitsyn has repeatedly received anonymous threats over the internet. On the social media site “Vkontakte,” people using fake identities wrote that if he does not stop taking part in protests in support of Ukraine, then they will “put the blame on him for all drug crimes.” Shipitsyn has stated with certainty, that the attack could only be linked with his political views. 

“I am 96% certain. The attack was connected with politics. I have absolutely no debts or other personal problems. I write only about politics on the internet. I didn’t tell anybody at all about when I was returning from the trip. Probably the attacker was conducting surveillance of my home,” the Solidarity activist suggested. 

Konstantin Sinitsyn 

The body of Konstantin Sinitsyn, an invariable participant in protest actions, was found in the entryway of his own building in St. Petersburg. He was beaten to death on the eve of a 28 January action. The killer has been arrested. According to Fontanka, it is a stockworker named Vasiliev. According to the investigation, he and Sinitsyn had a conflict on domestic grounds, and there was a fight that resulted in fatal traumas to the head. A criminal investigation was opened under Article 111 (Section 4), “Intentional infliction of serious bodily harm leading due to negligence to the victim’s death.” 

Konstantin Sinitsyn regularly took part in opposition events in Petersburg. He supported the events organised by Aleksei Navalny’s supporters, the protests by long-distance truckers and he took part in the protests against the handover of St. Isaac’s Cathedral to the Orthodox Church. Rally participants remembered his habit of wearing a hard hat, on which Sinitsyn put opposition slogans. He also took a lot of photographs and wrote on social networks about the actions that had taken place. 

The activist’s friend, human rights defender Dinar Idrisov, does not rule out the possibility of political motives for Konstantin’s murder. “I would not want to express any suspicions, but an entryway is a very convenient place for an attack. There were very many blows to the head, too. Not only that, it’s obvious that they were being careful to hush up the incident on the eve of the 28 January action,” the activist conjectured. 

Cases still not declared to be related 

Statements from the victims are being reviewed by different police departments. Right now, there is no information about the examinations conducted: the facts have not been made public. Lawyer Igor Shanurenko believes that the cases are unlikely to be linked into a series. 

“For this to happen, a specific investigator has to express a desire to sort out this political case, collect the materials on similar attacks, and start to work the cases. Decisions like this, I think, if they are ever taken, then it is only at the level of the Interior Ministry police leadership. No one in a district office would take on that kind of responsibility. If there had been such a decision, we would have been informed officially. I don’t think the police are going to establish the identities of the attackers and combine these cases. One can only guess the reasons behind this conduct on the part of law enforcement. I’m not an operative, but I know there are no crimes without witnesses and clues. All we can do is turn to jurists and the public.” Igor is certain that, “A high-quality investigation is needed not only for the victims but for society, too.” 

Translated by Anna Dvoryanchikova, Frances Robson, John Tokolish, Lindsay Munford and Marian Schwartz.


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