National newspaper supports Jehovah's Witnesses


F.S.B. used civilian transport in detention of Jehovists

by Alexander Chernykh

Kommersant, 15 April 2019


Surgut adherents of the teaching of Jehovah's Witnesses are complaining that FSB personnel transported arrested believers not in service transportation but in microbuses of third party organizations. They maintain that the special services used buses with the markings "Surgutneft," "Northern Roadways," and the Surgut technology institute. The suspects' lawyers affirm the necessity of verifying the legality of the actions of the security personnel. The FSB told Kommersant that the question of transport of detainees "constitutes a state secret."


The first time the use by the FSB of civilian vehicles was mentioned was in an interview with Kommersant by Timofei Zhukov, a former assistant prosecutor of Surgut, who gave up a career in law enforcement agencies and became a Jehovah's Witness. He described how personnel of the FSB and the Investigative Committee of Russia (SKR), after an hours-long search, transported him in a microbus of the Northern Roadways state company for interrogation. He said that other detained believers also mentioned that they were transported in microbuses with markings of various civilian organizations on the body.


We recall that in 2017 the Russian Supreme Court ruled the Administrative Center of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia to be an extremist organization and the activity of the center and its affiliates was banned. On 15 February 2019, in Surgut, SKR investigators and FSB officers arrested and interrogated about 40 followers of the teaching in a case about the organizing of an extremist community. Several believers declared that during interrogation they were beaten and tortured with an electric shock device. The SKR acknowledged that "martial techniques" were used because of resistance during the arrest, but the agency denied the charges of torture. Lawyers conducted an independent forensic medical expert analysis, which identified "numerous bruises" and burns from electric shock "typical of torture and cruelty" on seven believers.


"We counted at least eleven microbuses with markings of "Surgutneft," three vehicles marked "Northern Roadways," two buses of the Surgut technology institute, and another three that were without markings," attorney Egiazar Chernikov explained, regarding the kind of transport means used by personnel of the SKR and FSB. "One of my clients heard the driver of a bus complain that he was 'pulled off the flight.'"


Kommersant approached the aforementioned organizations for comment. The press service of Surgutneft originally stated that the company "does not have any microbuses with corporate markings." However on the website of fans of bus transportation, Fotobus, Kommersant found several recent photographs of Iveco Daily microbuses with the logotype Surgutneft, and the authors indicated that the picture was made in Surgut. After this the press service admitted that the company has such microbuses, but stated that they were "absolutely sure" they had not been handed over to security structures.


The deputy director for technical matters of the Surgut technology institute, Timofei Gurin, told Kommersant: "We refuse to make comments regarding buses. I advise you to ask for them from those security structures. As for the rest, you already know everything." The deputy general director for security of Northern Roadways, Rinat Kunsbaev, answered that the management of the company "does not have the right to comment on actions and decisions of investigative agencies and FSB organs." Mr. Kunsbaev answered Kommersent by quoting article 13 of the federal law "On federal security service," which says that FSB bodies "have the right, in cases that are urgent, to use transportation means belonging to enterprises, institutions, and organizations."


At the department of the SKR for Khanty-Mansi autonomous district Kommersant was told that they did not use "transportation of the indicated companies." In its turn, the directorate of the FSB for Tiumen oblast stated that the information sought by Kommersant is "information about powers, means, sources, methods, plans, and results of the activity" of the FSB and therefore "it constitutes a state secret." "There is no further comment," the letter says.


"There was no real necessity to transport people by force. Law-abiding believers would come by themselves upon summons," attorney Chernikov assures. In his opinion, the legality of the use of transportation by the security personnel needs to be assessed.


The head of judicial practice of the Institute of Law and Public Policy, Grigory Vaipan, thinks such practice is illegal. "In the law 'On federal security service' it actually speaks about the use of private transportation 'in urgent cases.' But it is permitted only 'for prevention of crimes, prosecutions and detention of persons who have committed crimes or are suspected of committing them, transporting citizens who need urgent medical care to treatment facilities, and also for reaching the scene of an incident." The expert also pointed out that according to the law, the FSB must, on the request of an owner, reimburse the expenses for the use of a vehicle. "If said company does not make such requests, it is appropriate to ask why they are subsidizing the Chekists [political police] for free," Mr. Vaipan explained.


The director of the international rights advocacy group Agora, Pavel Chikov, noted that the microbuses may belong to the FSB and the marking of the companies are applied for disguise. "We even know from films that certain transport means are disguised as utilities," he says. But he does not see a violation of law in the "rental" of buses. "So you can do without the bureaucracy altogether; the chief of the regional department of the FSB simply calls up the director of an enterprise and asks for a short loan of transport. Perhaps this is perceived as 'an offer you cannot refuse,' but the person has a voluntary choice—loan the vehicle or not," Mr. Chikov says. "In the final analysis, the owner of the vehicles has the full right to use them at their discretion. They may quite sincerely consider it their civil obligation to 'cooperate' with the special services. Like in the nineties businessmen bought Warsaw Pact computers and printers for the poor." (tr. by PDS, posted 19 April 2019)

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