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Russian Court Extends Activist’s Pretrial Detention

Release Mikhail Iosilevich Charged Under ‘Undesirables’ Law

Mikhail Iosilevich, head of the local branch of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster (Pastafarianism), an independent group,  November 2020. © Private/Facebook

Update: On June 24, a court in Nizhniy Novgorod again extended Mikhail Iosilevich’s pre-trial detention by two  more months.

Update: On April 23, a Russian court extended Iosilevich’s pre-trial detention again, until June 28. At that stage, he will have spent half a year in custody pending trial on “undesirable” charges. At the pretrial hearing, the prosecution added a new charge — threatening the life or bodily harm of a witness who testified against him. The court refused to consider the opinion of three experts submitted by the defense that the voice recorded making the threats over the telephone against the witness is not Iosilevich’s.

A Russian court extended the pretrial detention of activist Mikhail Iosilevich, the first person put behind bars in connection with his prosecution under Russia’s abusive “undesirable foreign organization” law.

The court, based in Nizhniy Novgorod, made its ruling last week. By the time the extension ends on April 28, Iosilevich will have spent three months behind bars without being convicted of something that should not be a crime in the first place. Iosilevich’s pretrial detention is a violation of his right to liberty and of Russia’s obligations under regional and international human rights treaties.

The authorities charged Iosilevich for providing space in his café, which hosts civil society events, for an event on election monitoring. He provided the space to election monitoring watchdog Golos, but the authorities claim he provided it to Open Russia, a group banned by the authorities as “undesirable.”

Once designated “undesirable”, an organization must cease all activities in Russia, and anyone deemed to be involved with it can be charged with an administrative or even criminal offence.

Local law enforcement said, ludicrously, that providing the venue amounted to an “attempt on the foundations of [Russia’s] constitutional order and state security”.  

In January, police arrested Iosilevich, claiming that he threatened a prosecution witness over the phone. But a few months before his arrest, the witness had recanted his statement against Iosilevich.

The court that ruled to extend Iosilevich’s time in custody refused to consider a defense motion to enter into evidence a conclusion by three independent experts, all of whom examined a recording of the threats made over the phone, that the voice was not Iosilevich’s.

Earlier in March, a group of Nizhniy Novgorod musicians and music producers, who work extensively with sound, posted a video stating that they analyzed the recording and were all confident that it was not the voice of Iosilevich.

Iosilevich’s friend, German Kniazev, told me that Iosilevich felt unwell during the court hearing, and an ambulance had to be called for medical assistance.

The proceedings against Iosilevich are beyond unwarranted. The very fact that he is facing criminal charges is outrageous. The prospect that he remains in detention and in another month, the investigators can request another extension is a travesty of justice.

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