The criminal case pertaining to the arson of the Arkhangelsk FSB building by Mikhail Zhlobitsky was closed in May 2020 due to his death. In late October 2018, the 17-year-old Zhlobitsky detonated a self-made bomb at the entrance of the local FSB headquarters, blowing himself up in the attack and injuring three FSB officers.
However, prosecutions related to this case have persisted. According to the human rights project ROSshtraf, mathematician Azat Miftakhov recently became the 53rd individual to be prosecuted due to remarks regarding the 2018 bombing. Cases are launched based on comments online or even private conversations where people avoid condemning Zhlobitsky’s actions.
Zhlobitsky’s aunt gets put on a terrorist watch list for grieving relative
According to Andrei Yeremeev, the coordinator of the ROSshtraf human rights project, Russian law enforcement has used Mikhail Zhlobitsky's case as a basis for 53 arrests. Individuals can be detained under this pretext indefinitely – even though the original arson case is no longer active. Law enforcement agencies have the flexibility to construct a case using various justifications – including fabricating intelligence reports – as long as they are inclined to do so.
“At the moment, it appears that these 53 individuals fall into two categories: those who reached out to human rights activists to report persecution in connection with this case and those who were subjects of media coverage. It's entirely plausible that there may be many more individuals affected by similar circumstances. Essentially, the FSB has established a very flexible case precedent, allowing them to launch a case in virtually any ambiguous situation. In Azat Miftakhov's case, there aren't even any social media posts to refer to. Based on current media reports, it seems that he may have made a comment in a private conversation with a fellow inmate, leading to an accusation of ‘terrorism justification.’ We know about this only from the words of the prison staff.
The primary defendant, Mikhail Zhlobitsky, has passed away, which conveniently simplifies matters for the authorities. He’s no longer a factor, and the events surrounding the explosion are now clear-cut. Indeed, there was an explosion, and it was officially classified as a terrorist act, resulting in charges of terrorism justification. Typically, in cases of ‘justifying terrorism,’ evidence is based on either a social media comment or an official report. However, the authorities can concoct any narrative they desire, and verification is often difficult, especially given the practice of using anonymous or secret witnesses who confirm the FSB's version of events.
They involve absolutely random people - from media personalities to simple housewives who just wrote something about [the incident] on social networks. The only thing they have in common is that they have either written or spoken about some aspect of the incident, or in some cases, the FSB claims they have done so. This approach defies common sense. In private conversations, it's not even criticism, let alone justification for terrorism. Take, for example, the case of Mikhail's aunt, Lilia Zhlobitskaya, who didn't write anything about the incident itself. She simply shared a memorial image on [social network] VK on the anniversary of his death, along with the words ‘We remember, we grieve.’ How does that justify terrorism? Nevertheless, she faced substantial fines and remains on the list of terrorists and extremists, which severely restricts an individual's rights.”
The case of Svetlana Prokopyeva
The list of individuals implicated in criminal cases due to their remarks on Mikhail Zhlobitsky's actions can be accessed through the following link [names listed in Russian – translator’s note].
Among the most notable cases was that of Pskov journalist Svetlana Prokopyeva, which triggered a series of investigations under the “terrorism justification” law. On December 11, 2018, Russia’s internet watchdog Roskomnadzor issued warnings to local media outlet Pskovskaya Lenta Novostei (“Pskov Newswire”) and the Ekho Moskvy radio station in Pskov following the publication of Prokopyeva's opinion piece titled “Repression for the State.” In this piece, the journalist suggested that the 17-year-old's terrorist act in Arkhangelsk could have been incited by the repressive measures of Russia’s political regime.
Roskomnadzor officials claimed that her position “promoted a positive attitude to terrorism,” leading to a terrorism justification case against Prokopyeva. Linguists and psychologists, conducting an expert examination that formed the basis for her charges, identified legal violations in her references to the disregard of “the rights and freedoms of citizens” in Russia, her comparison of the teenager who detonated himself at the Arkhangelsk FSB building with the Narodovists, and the absence of a negative assessment of his actions. In July, Prokopyeva was added to Rosfinmonitoring's roster of extremists and terrorists, resulting in the freezing of her accounts.
Linguists and psychologists who conducted an expert examination that provided the basis for the case against Prokopyeva pointed to the following three factors as evidence of her apparent guilt:
- The journalist said “the rights and freedoms of citizens in Russia” were not observed;
- She compared Zhlobitsky's actions to those of the Narodnaya Volya [a late 19th-century revolutionary socialist political organization and left-wing terrorist group operating in the Russian Empire – The Insider]
- Did not give a negative assessment of Zhlobitsky’s actions.
In July that year, Prokopyeva was added to Russia’s list of terrorists and extremists, leading to her bank accounts being blocked. Prokopyeva was struck off the list in May 2022, but had already left Russia by that time, after her home was searched in a case relating to slandering Pskov Regional governor Mikhail Vedernikov.
Azat Miftakhov's previous case and prison term
Mathematician and political prisoner Azat Miftakhov was appreheneded on new “terrorism justification” charges on September 4, just as he was being released from the correctional facility where he had been incarcerated for his involvement in an attack on a Moscow office of the Kremlin’s ruling United Russia party.
Miftakhov had been sentenced to a six-year prison term for his alleged role in the incident, which involved smashing a window at the United Russia office in a Moscow district, as per the investigation and court findings.
Miftakhov was arrested and remanded to pre-trial detention until November 3 by the Pervomaisky District Court in Kirov on September 5.