Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Prospect of Show Trial Stirs Some Russians' Memories of Stalinism

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Prospect of Show Trial Stirs Some Russians' Memories of Stalinism

Article excerpt

Many Russian activists say they fear a big political show trial is being prepared by the Kremlin's powerful Investigative Committee, and some are calling it a creeping revival of Stalin-era methods of repression. The aim, they say, will be to intimidate all Russians who think about taking to the streets to protest against President Vladimir Putin.

"We are definitely fearful that authorities are preparing a mega- trial," perhaps based on the alleged riot that took place during a mostly peaceful street protest on May 6, the day before Mr. Putin's inauguration for a third term, says Yevgeny Ikhlov, information officer with For Human Rights, a grassroots Moscow-based coalition.

"I know it sounds mad. Nobody will believe in this big conspiracy [that the Kremlin is alleging], and the authorities' credibility will suffer, but we see all the signs that it's being worked up," he says.

According to the script being prepared by the Kremlin, they allege, left-wing leader Sergei Udaltsov will be the principle defendant. He was accused in a "documentary" film, broadcast on the state-run NTV network, of plotting violent revolution at the behest of an official of the Georgian government and bankrolled by exiled anti-Putin tycoons in London.

Mr. Udaltsov was charged last Friday with conspiracy to conduct "mass disorders," which carries a potential 10-year prison sentence. Also charged were his associates, Konstantin Lebedev and Leonid Razvozzhayev who alleges he was kidnapped in Ukraine last week by Russian secret services, illegally transported to a Russian prison, and forced to "confess" under torture.

The Russian official narrative about Mr. Razvozzhayev has unraveled in recent days. According to Investigative Committee spokesman Vladimir Markin, he voluntarily gave himself up and penned a 10-page confession about his role in the vast anti-Kremlin conspiracy.

But, under pressure from international governments and groups like Amnesty International, Ukraine's security service, the SBU, posted a terse statement on its official website last Friday insisting that it had nothing to do with the case, and that Razvozzhayev had been abducted by "the security forces of another country" and transferred "in a hurried manner" to Russia.

When finally given access to his lawyer and members of the Public Monitoring Commission, an officially sanctioned prison watchdog, Razvozzhayev repudiated his confession and said he had been coerced into making it with threats against his family and physical pressures such as sleep and food deprivation.

"There is no doubt that [Razvozzhayev] was tortured," former judge and prisoners' rights activist Valery Borshchyov told journalists.

"It is usually thought that torture has to involve beating, blood, and so on, but it is not true. There are other kinds of torture. He told us how he was kidnapped and put in a van, how [the abductors] tied his feet and hands with tape and put a hat on his face so he couldn't see anything...."

"Our country has entered a new era of Stalin-like repressions," Mr. Borshchyov added.

References to the 1930s Stalin-era show trials, which smashed any semblance of opposition to Stalin and cowed Soviet society for generations, have been increasingly invoked by worried human rights activists and opposition leaders since last summer's Pussy Riot trial raised fears of an arbitrary state using criminal sanctions to intimidate political opponents.

But the parallel is deeply controversial. …

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