On July 14, a Russian court in the Oryol region sentenced 42-year-old Alexander Byvshev, a Russian provincial town schoolteacher of German and sometime poet, to 300 hours of community service and banned him from teaching for two years. The sentence came on a single charge of writing and publishing on the Internet a poem titled and addressed to Ukrainian patriots that criticized the Russian invasion of Crimea and the Donbas. This was reported by Radio Liberty, the BBC Russian Service and The Moscow Times, among others, albeit quite sparsely in total.
Some have criticized the fact that the judge who handed down the sentence and many of the witnesses from the defendant’s own village who testified against him had not even read the poem. Some have cited the poem itself as lacking anything defamatory. The teacher-poet himself is one-half Ukrainian on his mother’s side, if that’s relevant.
While the circumstances of the trial, the subject poem itself and the defendant’s ethnicity may be interesting, they are hardly relevant. What is astounding is that in Russia a human being was criminally charged, convicted and sentenced for writing a poem.
I have written to the editor of The Moscow Times to inquire why the publication, portraying itself as allegedly independent, did not comment on such an egregious occurrence in jurisprudence. I do not expect a response.
Previously I had written several times to this publication on issues dealing with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and its annexation of Crimea. My op-ed pieces on this subject, in particular on the historically limited and hostile connection between Russia and Crimea, had never been published. My piece had directly contradicted Russia’s propaganda assertion that Crimea was historically a part of the Motherland. I had asked the editor directly for his consideration of my submissions. He was courteous enough to respond to my inquiry as to why he was turning down my submission, explaining that I was essentially stating the obvious, even though the “obvious” had never appeared on the pages of his publication.
Interestingly enough, The Moscow Times in its “About Us” link answers several contrived questions about itself. Among them there is one question about its independence. The answer is terse and unequivocal that the Kremlin does not control the publication’s content. Perhaps equally interesting in its reader section is a statement addressed to the reader that reads “Due to the increasing number of users engaging in personal attacks, spam, trolling and abusive comments… we have found ourselves forced to suspend the commenting function on our articles.”
Whatever independent press existed in Russia in the past has been long silenced.
A little more than one year ago, in June 2014, Russia kidnapped a Ukrainian pilot-paratrooper, Nadiya Savchenko, on Ukrainian territory. The Russians took her to Russia and charged her with involvement in killing two Russian journalists on Ukrainian territory, but only after the pilot had been kidnapped, interrogated without counsel, transferred to a psychiatric asylum, then returned her to prison. Russian authorities refused to recognize her as a prisoner of war, depriving her of Geneva Convention rights. Ms. Savchenko has staged several hunger strikes and has become a cause célèbre among human rights groups and the international community. Last week she was brought to trial in a remote location, the town of Donetsk in Russia’s Rostov region. Russian authorities unabashedly declared the trial in camera and denied access to anyone, including journalists and foreign diplomats.
Roughly one year ago, on July 17, 2014, Russian missiles fired from Ukrainian territory but controlled by Russia and its surrogates shot down a plane (MH17) carrying almost 300 innocent civilian men, women and children. Russia’s President Vladimir Putin immediately blamed Ukraine and then impeded an international investigation. Since then, it has become clear to everyone in the international community that Russia perpetrated this heinous crime. Now, Russia, as a United Nations Security Council permanent member with veto power, will not allow a Security Council resolution for an international tribunal to prosecute those responsible.
Russia summarily executes its opposition both outside and within its borders (Alexander Litvinenko, Anna Politkovskaya, Boris Nemtsov). Those who carry out the Kremlin’s dirty deeds often wear masks or green uniforms without insignia; they use explosive material and various toxins. The leadership, like Mr. Putin, Dmitry Medvedev, Dmitry Rogozin, Sergei Lavrov, Vitaly Churkin, wear business suits, masquerade as civilized members of the international community, have access to international institutions and conference rooms, and behave brazenly without regard to public opinion. What a country! And they’re getting away with it.
How is Russia not deemed a terrorist state?