Staunton, December 24 – Crime, arrests, and convictions in Russia have all risen over the last year, reversing trends in recent years, but the most important development of the past year, Russian experts say, has been the increasingly arbitrary sentences judges have handed down, a pattern the experts suggest points to “the beginning of repression.”
That is because when Russians can no longer depend on the courts to impose penalties on the basis of statutes on an equal basis, the state ceases to be a legal state, and the authorities can act as they like with little or no regard to what even that country’s increasingly repressive laws specify.
Anastasiya Mikhailova of Russian Business Consulting examined the ten most widely reported cases in Russian courts over the last year in which a sentence was handed down and found that in some cases, judges imposed far harsher punishments than prosecutors had asked for (rbc.ru/photoreport/24/12/2015/56798ee19a79472cb7b2385e).
A comparison of these cases shows that judges handed down sentences of similar severity for very different crimes and imposed different penalties for those found guilty of the same thing. Thus, a film director who ran afoul of the new Russian powers in Crimea received “almost as big a term as did member of a band of nationalists.”
“For revealing state secrets,” a Russian court imposed a penalty “almost the same as for the organization of the murder of deputy [Galina] Starovoitova,” she observes; and “for revolutions at meetings for the first time were given real jail time,” while “officials caught in machinations with state property” were let off with a slap on the wrist.
The ten cases Mikhailova examines are:
1. Ilya Goryachev, the head of the Militant Organization of Russian Nationalists (BORN), was sentenced to life in prison for his role in organizing an extremist organization that committed multiple murders.
2. Said Amirov, the former mayor of Makhachkala, was sentenced to life in prison for his involvement in terrorism and hired murders.
3. Oleg Sentsov was sentenced to 20 years in a strict regime camp on charges that he tried to organize a terrorist group in Russian-occupied Crimea. In reality, he is a film maker who opposes the Russian occupation and sought to document what that has meant.
4. Mikhail Glushenko, former LDPR Duma deputy, was sentenced to 17 years in prison for his role in the 1998 murder of Galina Stavovoitova, even though her sister and an aide say the sentence appears to have been handed down at least in part to shield others involved in the deputy’s murder.
5. Gennady Kravtsov, a former GRU officer, was sentenced to 14 years in a strict regime camp for treason after the court found he had revealed secret information to a foreign power. More than six others have been similarly sentenced but have received punishments ranging from eight to 15 years.
6. Yuri Gordov, a train driver, was sentenced to six years in jail for his role in a July 2014 metro action. To date, Mikhailova points out, only workers but no managers have been brought to trial for this disaster.
7. Yevgeniya Vasilyeva, a senior Russian government property manager, was sentenced to five years in prison for her role in the diversion of this property. But she was quickly released as the result of actions by other courts and senior officials.
8. Ildar Dadin, an activist, was sentenced to three years in jail for repeated violation of a new provision of the criminal code governing those who take part in unsanctioned meetings more than once. He did so four times, the court found; but he pointed out that in three cases, he was involved in a single picket action for which the law does not require approval. The judge in this case imposed a three year sentence even though prosecutors asked for only two.
9. Georgy Alburov, an association of opposition leader Aleksey Navalny, was sentenced to 240 hours of community service supposedly for stealing a picture but almost certainly because of his research on corruption among senior Russian officials. Other Navalny associates have also been targeted.
10. Vladimir Chirkin, former head of Russia’s land forces, was initially sentenced to five years in the camps for corruption. But another court reduced this to a fine, allowed him to go free, and restored his rank of colonel general and all his state decorations.