Last week, two St. Petersburg anti-fascism activists went missing for days, only to reappear in court facing terrorism charges. They are accused of being members of a previously unheard-of anarchist group called “Network,” but human rights activists believe the confessions of at least one of the men was extracted under torture.
Viktor Filinkov, 23, disappeared en route to the airport on the evening of January 23, his wife told Russian human rights watchdog OVD-Info. She filed a missing person report and two days later Filinkov resurfaced, arrested on suspicion of involvement in a terrorist organization. Filinkov’s lawyer Vitaly Cherkasov, and two members of the St. Petersburg Public Oversight Commission (POC) that monitors places of detention, visited him in detention the following day and were shocked by his injuries consistent with having been tortured.
The POC report notes, “numerous burns from electric shocks on his right thigh … and chest,” and handcuff marks on both hands.
Filinkov told them that after Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) officers stopped him at the airport, masked men placed him in a minivan and subjected him to electric shocks while the FSB officers forced him to memorize a confession implicating himself.
Igor Shishkin, 26, left his St. Petersburg apartment on the evening of January 25 to walk his dog. His wife told media that FSB agents arrived at their apartment later that evening, with the dog and a search warrant, but without Igor. They took her in for questioning, including about her political views, later releasing her, but without telling her anything about her husband’s fate.
Shishkin reappeared two days later at the same district court where Filinkov had his custody hearing. Journalists were barred from attending Shishkin’s hearing. A friend of Shishkin’s, who caught a glimpse of him in court, told reporters he saw bruising around his eyes.
Shishkin and Filinkov now face charges for alleged involvement in a terrorist organization, punishable by up to ten years in prison. The case file refers to other members of Network, which it accuses of an attempted violent overthrow of the government, so more arrests among St. Petersburg’s activists are likely to follow. The Russian authorities should immediately end unlawful disappearances, promptly and effectively investigate allegations of torture, and ensure all future policing operations are conducted in strict accordance with due process and human rights standards.