07/30/2010, 00.00
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Russian poet convicted as a militant rebel

by Nina Achmatova
Yulia Privedennaya’s case has mobilised human rights activists. A member of the PORTOS group, she was given a four-and- half-year suspended sentence after a controversial trial. Her lawyer says the authorities are afraid of any association that is free of their control. In Russia, the justice system is under control.
Moscow (AsiaNews) – A Moscow regional court ruled on Wednesday that an amateur poet crossed the line between art and crime by turning a commune that helped youth and the elderly into an illegal armed group. Yulia Privedennaya (pictured, right), 36, got a four-and- half-year suspended sentence after she was convicted, among other things, of segregating and forcing minors to work.

Ms Privedennaya said she is innocent of all the charges. Her attorney said that she is the victim of persecution, and that the trial was based on lies and distortions.

Several well know Russian human rights activists, including Sergei Kovalyov, Lyudmila Alexeyeva Svetlana Ganushkina, were character witnesses on behalf of the accused.

Yuri Samodurov, who was sentenced to two years in jail for organising a controversial art exhibit titled ‘Caution, religion!’, was in the courtroom when the sentence was read.

Trial opacity

Ms Privedennaya is a senior member of PORTOS (the Russian acronym for the Poetic Society for Development of the Theory of the Common Good), a group inspired by Italian philosopher Tommaso Campanella that operates in Ukraine and Russia, helping the elderly and the children of alcoholic parents.

“We educate kids through poetry and drawing. We promote peace between nations. But the judge refused to believe us,” she said.

“The court decided that the presence of some air guns and three, licensed hunting rifles bought before PORTOS was created in 2000 was enough to convict Yulia as the head of a rebel group, a terrorist,” said her lawyer, Mikhail Trepashkin (pictured, left).

“It is the judge who broke the law,” he explained, “because in order to condemn a group as criminal it is necessary to indicate its purpose, which he did not do. All 43 alleged abuse victims said they were not experience any violence, but we were not even able to get them to testify.”

“The conviction is based only on the prosecutor’s ideas and written statements by police,” he added. “We are going to appeal. If necessary, we are going all the way to the court in Strasbourg.”

At the start of the trial in 2008, a PORTOS member, Natalya Shako, testified against Ms Privedennaya, but she later recanted saying that police had threatened her.

At present, there is no evidence of forced labour in the PORTOS commune. Members do work, help children and deliver food to pensioners and war veterans.

In Russia, justice under control

The verdict is the latest chapter in a long battle that Russian authorities launched against PORTOS ten years ago, when police searched its compound in Lyuberetsky district, Moscow Oblast. In 2002, two members were sentenced to jail, and two more, including founder Yuri Davidov, were ordered to follow mandatory psychiatric treatment.

PORTOS’ case exemplifies the state of justice in Russia, said Trepashkin, a former KGB-FSB agent who became a political prisoner and is now actively involved in human rights issues.

“It is justice under control” by those in power. “The judge helps the prosecutor come up with the charges and then uses them to convict, both doing the job for someone else further up the chain of command.”

“The authorities fear any association that is not under their direct control or does not share their ideas,” he said. “In this sense, Jehovah’s Witnesses, PORTOS, the National Bolsheviks and anti-Fascists are all the same, open to persecution, because they are actively involved in society, demonstrating, or meeting peacefully.”

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