Gresham College Lectures

Opposition in Russia: The Trials of Alexei Navalny

November 15, 2022 Gresham College
Gresham College Lectures
Opposition in Russia: The Trials of Alexei Navalny
Show Notes Transcript

Alexei Navalny is the leading opposition leader in Russia. He is also currently serving a lengthy prison sentence in a Russian correctional colony.

This lecture will look at the use of the processes of the law by the Russian state to silence and isolate Navalny and to neutralise other forms of internal dissent. It will consider more widely the state of the rule of law in Russia since its invasion of Ukraine.


A lecture by Thomas Grant KC

The transcript and downloadable versions of the lecture are available from the Gresham College website: https://www.gresham.ac.uk/watch-now/navalny-trials

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- Title of my lecture tonight,

"Opposition in Russia:

"The Trials of Alexei Navalny." I want to start by reminding you of an extraordinary story: it's the 20th of August, 2020, Alexei Navalny, the very, very well known opposition activist, politician, campaigner, has flown to Tomsk, in Siberia, to make a film about local corruption in that city. On the plane back to Moscow, he starts howling and crying in pain, and in fact, if one looks on the Internet, one can see video taken by people on the plane, and hearing those terrible cries of pain being emitted by Mr. Navalny. The flight diverts to the nearest airport, at Omsk, another city relatively close by to Tomsk, where Navalny is rushed to hospital. He's now in a coma. The doctors who tend to him are certain that no trace of poison can be found, and they suggest, possibly improbably, that his condition may have been caused by low blood sugar levels. Navalny is, at the time, a fit and healthy man in his early 40s. Navalny's wife, Yulia, arrives swiftly from Moscow. The hospital seems to now be filled more with police officers than doctors or nurses. The authorities demand proof from Yulia, Navalny's wife, that she is indeed his wife. They also say, well, Mr. Navalny hasn't given permission for you to see him, which, I suppose, is a fair point given that he was, at the time, in a coma, and unable to give affirmative assent to his wife visiting him in his hospital room. A couple of days pass, and after considerable international pressure, Navalny is released from the hospital at Omsk and flown to Germany to be cared for by German doctors in Berlin, but the clothes he was wearing at the time of the medical crisis in the airplane are removed and seized by the Russian authorities.

We move to Berlin:

toxicological tests show that Navalny has been indeed poisoned, with a type of Novichok nerve agent, and you'll remember that this was the same substance that was used in an attempt to murder Sergei Skripal in Salisbury, in 2018. There's Navalny in his capacity as protestor and politician, here is Navalny now in early September, 2020, after he has been brought out of a medically induced coma, which happens on the 7th of September, so a considerable period of time after the original crisis, and he is discharged from his hospital on the 22nd of September, so a full month after the event occurred on the airplane. Clearly, a very serious medical incident has occurred for Mr. Navalny, and in fact, the investigation that is subsequently carried out by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons concludes that the Novichok that was used was a previously unknown variant, more toxic and dangerous than existing versions as they were then known, and they conclude that it must have been intended by whoever carried out the poisoning that Navalny would die on the plane as it headed from Tomsk to Moscow. And the only reason, it is concluded, that Navalny survived at all was a combination of two very quick decisions, first, the decision of the pilot of the airplane to make that emergency landing at Omsk, and secondly, the decision of the doctors at the hospital in Omsk to inject Navalny, possibly fearing something might have happened, with atropine, an antidote against the kind of nerve agent that is Novichok when he originally had initially arrived at hospital. After Navalny is released from hospital in Germany, he remains on German soil in order to regain his health, he's still very, very weak for a protracted period of time. And while he's regaining his health in Germany, he starts investigating the circumstances of his poisoning. And with the assistance of journalists and the investigative website Bellingcat, which many of you, of course, will know about, he makes quite extraordinary discoveries about the identity of the assassination squad that had tried to kill him. And his team tracks down, quite extraordinarily, their names, their mobile phone numbers, and their movements over the last two or three years. Amazing what you can do with the Internet. And it turns out, according to these investigations, that a team of about eight members of the FSB, that is the Russian Security Service, have been tracking Navalny for a period of about three years, criss-crossing Russia where he was on his various missions and journeys. By contrast to these investigations, the Russian police carry out their own supposed investigation of what, on the face of it, is an assassination or murder attempt. They quickly close their file on the grounds that it had been found that there was no sign of any crime having been committed whatsoever. There is, about Navalny's protest efforts and campaigning, a performative element in a lot of what he does, he's an extraordinarily charismatic and amusing figure in many respects, and in a remarkable coup de theatre, he decides to telephone each of the members of the assassination squad, whose phone numbers have been located through the efforts of Bellingcat, and he decides to do so posing as a particular individual within the governmental bureaucracy. And these phone calls are filmed, as many of you will know because you'll have seen the film, which I'm going to come on to mention. And he sits in his German house, where he's recovering, he makes phone calls to each of the members of the supposed assassination squad. Most of them don't respond to his questions, but one of them, thinking that Navalny is a high-up member of the Russian bureaucracy and government, demanding to know, as Navalny is in his pose, what on earth happened to that mission at Tomsk, he gets somebody to talk, and you can hear it, it's available on the Internet now, this phone conversation. The operative who he gets to talk, the operative, of course, not realizing that it is, in fact, the victim, or the proposed victim, speaking to him, rather opens up in an extraordinary way. The conversation is a long conversation, which I won't quote in full of course, but this individual uses some remarkable, I think the phrase is circumlocutions,

and I quote:

"Well, they landed the plane, "and the situation developed "in a way that was not quite in our favor, I think. "If it had been a little longer, "I think the situation could have gone differently," i.e. if the plane hadn't landed and it'd gone a little longer, the situation could have gone rather differently, and we know what that means. The conversation then moves into the realms of the surreal, and I've quoted a passage here, which I hope you can see. N is Navalny, K is the operative who is being spoken to. "And on what piece of cloth was your focus on?" This operative had been tasked with clearing things up at Tomsk, "Which garment had the highest risk factor?"

K:

"The underpants."

N:

"The underpants?"

K:

"A risk factor in what sense?"

N, that's Navalny:

"Where the concentration of Novichok could be highest." "Well, the underpants." "Do you mean from the Inner side or from the outer?" "Well, we were processing the inner side, "that is what we were doing." "Well, imagine some underpants in front of you, "which part did you process?" "Well, the inner, where the groin is." "The groin?" says Navalny, having to suppress his laughter. "Well, the crotch, as they call it. "There is some sort of seams there, "there, by the seams." The conversation lasts for a lot longer, but essentially, as many of you will of course know, it turns out that the way that the Novichok was thought to be introduced into Navalny's body was via a pair of underpants, which I presume had been laundered in the hotel he was staying in in Omsk, and had been laced, and he put the pants on, and the idea was that he would slowly die while he was airborne between Tomsk and Moscow. And I mentioned the film, there's an extraordinary film made about Navalny, made about this particular event, which was released earlier this year, and which you can see still on the BBC iPlayer, and it's an astonishing film, and I would very much recommend it to you as a very interesting documentary indeed. What is astonishing, thereafter, is that once Navalny has regained his strength, he decides to return to Russia, and he does so having publicly accused the president of Russia of having himself personally ordered Navalny's murder, and knowing that he will almost certainly be arrested on his return to Russia, despite the fact, of course, that he himself has been the victim of a very serious crime. And so, on the 17th of January of 2021, last year, Navalny takes a flight from Berlin Airport to Russia. The flight is due to arrive at Vnukovo Airport, in Moscow, and his large body of supporters gather to give him a welcome back to Russia. The flight is then diverted, for supposed technical reasons, to another airport, where the protestors, or not the protestors, the supporters, of course, are not, and this has all been filmed by the documentary makers, we see this in real-time. He disembarks his wife at the new airport, and of course he is, as he had predicted and knew, immediately arrested, and there we see a photograph of the very welcoming committee which was welcoming Mr. Navalny back to Russia after his near-death experience. And you may ask, well what was he being arrested for? Given the story that I've so far unfolded to you, the answer may not be surprising, although I think it's still pretty shocking. If we go back six years, Navalny had, in 2013, been prosecuted and received a suspended sentence of 3 1/2 years in prison in a criminal prosecution known as the Yves Rocher case, Yves Rocher being a French cosmetics firm that had a Russian subsidiary. The terms of that suspension of his 3 1/2 year prison sentence were that he was obliged to report physically to a probation officer in Moscow once every two weeks, in lieu of serving his sentence in prison. Navalny was now being arrested, six, seven years later, because, having been outside of Russia for the five months between August, 2020 and January, 2021, he had violated the terms of his probation, because he'd failed, physically, to attend the probation officer's office in Moscow in that period. One might have thought he had quite a good excuse, but no. He's arrested by these very welcoming gentlemen, and he appears in a Moscow court on the 2nd of February, 2021, so 14 days after his arrival back in Moscow. And there is a photograph of Navalny in the Moscow courtroom on the 2nd of February, 2021. And it is held and decided by the judge in Moscow on that date that because of his breaches of the terms of his suspended sentence in the Yves Rocher case back in 2013, he must be returned to prison, and his suspended sentence activated, i.e. he is now sentenced to serve the full period of that sentence that was passed on him, in suspension, six or seven years earlier. At the time, Navalny described the judge's decision as, quote, "Ultimate lawlessness," and one can certainly feel some degree of sympathy for that characterization, it was a remarkable thing to do to a man who had suffered, on any view, a serious medical crisis. Remember, he had been taken from Russia to Germany while he was in a coma, so he wasn't in a position to make a decision one way or the other whether he was going to Germany, Britain, or the United States, or staying in Russia, and had been taken to Germany with the full acquiescence of the Russian authorities at the time to save his life, as it proved. Many Russians took the same view as Navalny as to the astonishingness of that sentence, and protests ensued on the streets of Moscow on the 2nd of February, and 1,500 people were detained that evening. As we're going to discover, one of the key weapons utilized by the Russian state against those who seek to resist or challenge the status quo is the law and the criminal and civil courts of Russia. When I tell you that the conviction rate in the Russian criminal courts overall is 99.8%, you will immediately see that the court system that one is dealing with in Russia now is very far removed from the court systems of the West, or of England. Before I carry on, let me say just a few words about Alexei Navalny, very briefly, he's a famous figure, of course, and I know that you'll know quite a lot about him already. He was born in Moscow in 1976, studied law and then finance, and in the 1990s, was a very vigorous supporter of President Yeltsin's free market reforms, and he joined a small liberal party at the time. He flirted for a while with nationalist politics, and there's been a lot written about that, and then, at the same time, became a minority shareholder and anti-corruption campaigner. So he would attend the general meetings of Russian companies, having bought a small shareholding in the company, and demand to know why, given that the company was making very substantial profits, why were none of the profits being delivered back to the shareholders by way of dividends, that was one of his campaigns, accountability within the nascent capitalist system of Russia. He also became very well known, as you will of course all know very well, as an anti-corruption campaigner. He started investigating state contracts, what were, on the face of it, inflated state contracts to people connected to the Russian state. He even set up website tracking the existence of potholes on the streets of Russia, demanding to know why they hadn't been filled in, lots of interesting photographs of potholes in the towns of Russia. And he really understood at a relatively early stage the immense power of the Internet, and he became very well known, I'm sure you've seen some of his videos, for the videos he would make about corruption, the corruption of state officials and politicians in Russia. He would narrate them with black humor and irony, so they're not only appalling things to watch, they're also quite amusing things to watch in a sort of black way at the same time, exposing the corruption in the Russian state. His most famous video, his most infamous video, depending on which side you're on, was about Dmitry Medvedev, who, you'll recall, was the former president and prime minister of Russia. He made a video called "Don't Called Him Dimon," which is a joke about Mr. Medvedev's first name and the diminutive thereof, and in it, he claims to trace the vast quantity, so he claimed, of Mr. Medvedev's supposedly ill-gotten wealth. The video has attracted, by when I looked this morning, 45 million views on YouTube so far. And I'm hoping this lecture will have a similar effect! (audience laughs) Such is Navalny's chutzpah that two days after he returns to Moscow, on the 17th of January, from his sojourn, for health reasons, in Germany, and he's now in prison, of course, he's in detention, his organization issues a video now about the supposed wealth of the president himself. It's a video which has attracted, apparently, 100 million views within the first week or two of it being released onto the Internet.

It's called "Putin's Palace:

"History of the World's Largest Bribe," and it's all about this extraordinarily, on one view, vulgar palace on the Black Sea, which, according to the video, cost $1 billion to build. And if one looks on the Internet about it, it has the most preposterous quantity of, forget about cinema, multiple cinemas, and all the various accoutrements of an oligarch's residence, a remarkable video. You may think, not necessarily the best timing to release that video, when he's facing a criminal prosecution, but that's the man that Alexei Navalny is, not somebody to run away from danger or jeopardy. I want to now, having spent a little time about Navalny, I want to go back to that case that I mentioned, the one that saw him receiving the 3 1/2 year suspended sentence, known as the Yves Rocher case, it tells you quite a lot about the way the Russian legal system can work.

Let's say one thing immediately:

throughout his adult life, Navalny has been dogged by multiple prosecutions, and indeed civil actions as well. The one I'm going to mention briefly is the so-called Yves Rocher case. It related to a contract between a company run by Mr. Navalny's brother and the Russian subsidiary of this cosmetics firm, Yves Rocher, and it was a very, very uninteresting contract. It was a contract, essentially, where the company said, we will deliver your parcels for you in Russia for a fixed price, so under that contract, Navalny's brother's company says we will charge you X number of rubles per delivery, and it then went ahead and subcontracted that work to another, unrelated company in Russia for a lower price, Y number of rubles, and hey presto, the profit it made was the difference between the price it charged Yves Rocher and the price that was charged to it by its subcontractor. I mention this because, on the face of it, the facts of the case are staggeringly banal, they are simply the workings of the market economy, and Yves Rocher, I should say, made no suggestion at all that it had been in any way defrauded. Yet, just after Navalny, in his capacity as an anti-corruption campaigner, had looked into the activities of the chief of the Investigate Committee of the Russian Federation, a very important individual, a very important role, a Mr. Bastrykin, hey presto, Navalny finds himself being charged, alongside his brother, with fraud and embezzlement in relation to this contract. Navalny is placed, for a year, under house arrest, pending the trial of the action, and he is convicted, and as you know, and as I've mentioned, he finds himself sentenced to this suspended prison sentence. He challenges his conviction before the European Court of Human Rights, which, Russia technically is a signatory to the convention, and technically accepts the jurisdiction of the European Court in Strasbourg, just like virtually all other European states. And in a judgment delivered in 2017, the court held that his and his brother's conviction was an infringement of Article 7 of the Convention. I should have shown you this earlier, there it is, there's the mansion, it's worth every cent of that billion dollars, that's the so-called mansion, by the very nice Black Sea there.

We're now onto the Convention, Article 7:

"No one shall be held guilty of any criminal offense "on account of any act or omission "which did not constitute a criminal offense "under national or international law "at the time when it was committed, "nor shall a heavier penalty be imposed "than the one that was applicable "at the time the criminal offense was committed," so far, so so obvious you might say. And here's a passage from the judgment of the ECHR in that particular decision: "The court reiterates "that the guarantee enshrined in Article 7 of the Convention "is an essential element of the rule of law. "It should be construed and applied, "as follows from its object and purpose "in such a way as to provide effective safeguards "against arbitrary prosecution, conviction, and punishment. "Article 7 is not confined "to prohibiting the retroactive application of criminal law "to the disadvantage of an accused. "It also embodies more generally "the principle that only the law can define a crime "and prescribe a penalty, "and the principle "that criminal law must not be extensively construed "to the detriment of an accused, "for instance by analogy. "For these reasons," for these principles, "it follows that an offense must be clearly defined in law." What point is being made there? The point that was being made there is that the activity of Navalny and his brother, in entering into this entirely banal and uninteresting commercial contract back in 2008, it was that long ago, it was impossible for them to foresee, based on the law as it then stood, that their activities could subsequently be characterized as criminal. They were engaging in what was a purely ordinary commercial activity, which had been, to their detriment, interpreted subsequent to the event by the Russian court as criminal. Now, you may say to me, well so what, so what? This is just a criminal court in Russia misinterpreting the law, it happens all the time, that's what appeals are there for, that's what ECHR is there for. Well, it gets worse than that in the case of Navalny, and there's another case I wanted to mention which was brought against him. The Yves Rocher case was not the first time he had been prosecuted in a Russian court for fraud and embezzlement. Let me go back to 2012 now, a year before the Yves Rocher case. By this time, Navalny was a genuinely nationwide-known and prominent political figure, he's been leading the protests and rallies that occurred when President Putin was elected as president in March, 2012, he's been imprisoned for short periods of time for participating in unlawful gatherings, and it was at this stage that he is charged with another embezzlement prosecution, this time in relation to a timber factory.

Again, the facts are trivial:

in 2008, he advises the timber factory, which is losing money hand over fist, that in order to attract customers, it would be advisable for the timber factory to enter into a contract with a sales company that knows how to sell timber. So he makes this suggestion, and he suggests an associate of his who has a sales company, who enters into a contract with the timber company to buy the timber at rate X, and the sales company then tries to sell it on the open market at rate Y, and guess what? Rate X and rate Y are different, because they allow for a profit to be made by the sales company, and some profits are indeed made. And he and the associate who runs the company are again charged with embezzlement, essentially on the basis that they had defrauded the timber company by buying at X rubles and selling at Y rubles. Investigations occur about these events, and for two years, the local police can find no crime, they can find no crime at all. Then, in July, 2012, the chief of Investigative Committee, the gentleman we've already met, Mr. Bastrykin, speaks at its general meeting, and the Investigative Committee is a centralized criminal investigation body of immense power. And Bastrykin's not happy that, for two years, the local police have not been able to find any crime,

and he makes his unhappiness known:

"You've got a man there called Navalny. "The criminal case, why have you terminated it "without asking the Investigative Committee superiors? "Today, the whole country," apparently, "is discussing this fraud, "the talks between Mr. Navalny and Mr. Belykh," who's the gentleman at the timber company, "have been published, "and we cannot hear anything except grunting. "You had a criminal file against this man "and you've quietly closed it. "I am warning you that there'll be no mercy, no forgiveness "if such things happen again. "If you have grounds to close it, report it, "feeling weak, afraid, under pressure: report! "We'll help support you, take over the file, "but quietly, like that, no, no, no." And there's Mr. Bastrykin, there we are, in discussions with the president. So this is one way that criminal investigations are conducted in the Russian Federation now. And you won't be surprised to hear that after Mr. Bastrykin made his displeasure known, and it's fair to say, after Navalny had responded by publishing a further video about Mr. Bastrykin's supposed ill-gotten gains, Mr. Navalny and his associate are charged with conspiring to dissipate the assets of the timber company. His trial commences in 2013, there is Navalny in the courtroom in 2013. At the time, he is running to be mayor of Moscow, running in the election to be mayor of Moscow. He is sentenced to five years in prison, again suspended, for embezzlement, and it's noted at the time that the judge who convicts him of this separate offense has conducted 130 trials in his professional career, so he's a very experienced judge, and it's also noted that he has found the defendant guilty on 130 occasions. Nonetheless, Navalny continues with his mayoral campaign, it's a very important event, and emerges, despite everything, with 27% of the vote, which, I haven't got time to go into it, but in the circumstances, an extremely commendable result for him. Now Navalny, again, takes his case to the European Court of Human Rights in this case as well, and says this is a patently political conviction, and patently in breach of my Article 6 rights to a fair trial, and again, the European Court has cause to consider one of Mr. Navalny's complaints, and again rules in his favor, and against the Russian state,

and we have a passage from the judgment:

"The courts found the second applicant," who was the associate, "guilty of acts indistinguishable "from regular commercial middleman activities, "and the first applicant for fostering them. "The court considers in the present case "the questions of interpretation and application "of national law "go beyond a regular assessment "of the applicants' individual criminal responsibility "or the establishment of corpus delicti, "matters which are primarily within "the domestic courts' domain. "It's confronted with a situation "where the acts described as criminal "fell entirely outside the scope of the provision "under which the applicants were convicted. "and were not concordant with its intended aim. "In other words, "the criminal law was arbitrarily, unforeseeably construed "to the detriment of the applicants, "leading to a manifestly unreasonable outcome at the trial." What I think is interesting about these two cases, the timber case and the Yves Rocher case is that in both instances, Navalny was not being prosecuted overtly and directly for his political activities, he was being prosecuted, on the face of it, for entirely unrelated commercial fraud, utterly disconnected from his public persona, and I think there's significance in that, because I think what it shows is it demonstrates the willingness of the Russian courts and the Russian prosecution authorities to criminalize ordinary activities in order to try and suppress and delegitimize dissenters. And these prosecutions, and I should say there are many, many other civil claims that have been brought against Navalny which I haven't got time to go into, have also had the effect of entangling Navalny, and people like him, in endless, protracted disputes. And I know, as a lawyer, and I'm sure many of you know as well, litigation, whatever the outcome of litigation, itself is stressful, costly, and hugely time-consuming. The litigation itself, irrespective of the outcome, is a form of silencing the defendant to that litigation, because, to use that phrase, people have limited bandwidth, and if you're constantly being oppressed and entangled with the business of litigation, your ability to concentrate on anything else, of course, is substantially diminished. The prosecutions also served another purpose, and we find that out a couple of years later, we're in 2016 now. Navalny has fought the mayoral election two or three years earlier, and I told you the result. He now has his sights set even higher, the presidency of Russia itself. And the election takes place every six years, the election is due to take place in March, 2018, and Navalny announces his candidature in December of 2016, and devotes the next year to this substantial undertaking. His candidature is derailed, and it's derailed in these circumstances, that after the ECHR's decision in the timber case, which effectively annulled his conviction, the Russian courts responded by trying him again for the same crime. There's a trial in February, 2017, he is again convicted, and sentenced again to a suspended sentence of five years, but by this time, the law has been changed so that anyone convicted of a prison sentence, whether suspended or not, is debarred from running in a presidential election. So the electoral committee announce, four months before the election is due to take place, and after Navalny has spent an awful lot of time and energy running his campaign and increasing his public recognition, the electoral commission decide and announce that he is disentitled from running for president. So the effect of these convictions, far removed in one sense from the political domain, is actually immediate and political in the sense that he is effectively disabled from running, and he, I think by common consent at the time, he was the best shot anyone had at fighting the election against President Putin. I want to move on to another subject, during that campaign, during 2017, when Navalny's criss-crossing Russia, talking about his anti-corruption message, talking about his policies, he finds himself in a town in Siberia, and he's attacked by an unknown assailant. You can see it on video, it was filmed, by chance, and he's doused with green antiseptic. That's a photograph taken after the attack against him, and you see one of his eyes has closed up, and it caused him quite serious damage to one of his eyes. An unknown assailant commits this assault upon him. The result is that, all over Russia, his supporters start posting photographs of themselves painted with green faces to show their solidarity with Navalny in his current plight. One of his closest associates, his campaign manager, a man called Alexei Volkov, circulates online, as a sign of solidarity with his friend and associate, a Photoshopped image of a famous statue known as "Motherland Calls." There's the statue, 85 meters high, it's the tallest statue, this is one fact you will learn this evening, it is the tallest statue in Europe, but not the world, although it was the tallest statue in the world for a long period of time. It's in Volgograd, what used to be known as Stalingrad, and a great patriotic statue, and it's fair to say it carries a lot of symbolic significance for many people in the Russian state. And what had Volkov done with a photograph of this statue? He had pixelated her face green. There we are, that's what he'd done. And apparently, this was a source of outrage to some of the more patriotic elements within the Russian state, and there were protests against this, and a criminal investigation is embarked upon, and it's personally supervised by our old friend Mr. Bastrykin, the head of the Investigative Committee, the man we saw in earnest discussions with the president a few minutes ago. It's such an important point this that an investigator is dispatched from Moscow to Volgograd to investigate the crime and to collect evidence. Given that the crime occurred in cyberspace, no statues were harmed during the perpetration of this supposed crime, but the unfortunate Mr. Volkov finds himself charged under Article 243 of the Criminal Code, which I will read out,

but you've probably already read it:

"Destruction or damage of monuments of history "shall be a criminal offense." You may think we're entering a rather surreal world, you might think that Article 243 was directed at people coming and painting the sculpture, or hacking away at it, or something like that. This occurred in cyberspace. The courts were not to be dissuaded by that, and Mr. Volkov was duly fined in 2019 for his crime. The other article that Mr. Volkov was apparently prosecuted under was another article of the code, introduced in 2014, and generally known as the Law Against the Rehabilitation of Nazism. Here it is, here's some extracts from it. It's now a crime "To dent facts "recognized by the International Military Tribunal," i.e. the Nuremberg Tribunal, "to approve of the crimes the Nuremberg Tribunal judged," and then, more problematically, one might think, "to spread intentionally false information "about the Soviet Union's activities during the Second War, "fourthly, to spread information "on military and memorial commemorative dates "related to Russia's defense "and is clearly disrespectful of society, "and to publicly desecrate symbols "of Russia's military glory," that is a set of provisions introduced in 2014, under which Mr. Volkov was additionally charged. The maximum sentence for crimes within this general category is three years in prison. It's of course the case that various European states have introduced criminal offenses of Holocaust denial, but we're clearly very far removed from that type of offense when we look at Article 354. And it has been used expansively, this article, by the Russian prosecution authorities since 2014, effectively to outlaw versions of Russian history and Soviet history which run counter to that version that the Russian state wishes to promulgate, a version which, as many of you will have seen in the newspapers, et cetera, where the Russian state now has a narrative of its own history, and especially its history during the Second World War, which is of unquestioning glorification of every step taken during the Second War, and indeed more broadly. What we see in the prosecutions that have occurred under this section is the deployment of the criminal law to impose upon the state a narrative which, effectively, can equate any form of critique of Russian state activity of the past into a form of Nazism. And of course, in the last six or seven months, we've seen that very vividly in action. One consequence of this law has been, in practice, that any historical discussion about the cooperation between Hitler and Stalin before the Second World War, about any suggestions that any kind of war crimes might have been perpetrated by the Red Army during the war, questioning the activities of the Soviet state in the post-war period and during its occupation of Eastern European countries can now be characterized as a form of rehabilitation of Nazism. It would probably be a crime now, in Russia, to publish these very famous cartoons from the 1930s, "A nice piece of Poland," and this, of course, very famous, David Lowe, I think, cartoon, it's not very well portrayed here, "The Scum of the earth, I presume?" and Mr. Stalin says some similar words back to Herr Hitler as they look over the corpse of Poland. To publish these cartoons now in Russia could well be a criminal offense. Now, you think, is this an exaggeration, you may think. Well, let me give you an example of a recent prosecution under this section. A blogger, an entirely innocuous blogger called Vladimir Luzgin is convicted in Perm under this offense for having re-posted on a social media site in Russia an article which asserts that the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, and I quote, "Actively collaborated in dividing Europe "according to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, "jointly attacked Poland, "and unleashed the Second World War." And this gentleman, Luzgin, was convicted of circulation of false information about the activities of the USSR during World War II, a conviction that was upheld by the Supreme Court of Russia. Now, there are two things to say, to my mind, about that conviction. The first is, think about what kind of a state it is that actually criminalizes discussion about its own past, it's as if the British Parliament here was to pass a law that criminalized the questioning of the morality of the concentration camps set up by the British during the Boer War, or criminalize the questioning of the Dresden bombings of 1944 and 1945, that's essentially what is being done. Secondly, and perhaps even more fundamentally, what the article that this unfortunate individual posted, said,

was nothing more than the truth:

in September, 1939, Germany invaded Poland from one side, and a couple of weeks later, Russia invaded Poland from the other side, and by the 6th of October of that year, Poland had effectively ceased to exist, it had been divided, in accordance with the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of a few weeks earlier, between Germany and the Soviet Union. Alexei Navalny is never far away from these legal developments, these ominous legal developments. After he had been convicted, sent to prison on the 2nd of February of last year, as I've mentioned, he found himself back in court a month later. Why was he back in court? He was back in court because he had criticized a Russian state propaganda video which had been made trying to promote proposed amendments to the Russian Constitution, which were designed, these amendments, one of them was to allow the incumbent president to stand, if he wished, for another two terms as president, there was a limit previously, and that, of course, as you know, that limit has now been altered. There were various voices on this video, there were people from all walks of life voicing their support for this wonderful proposed change to the constitution. One of them, one of the voices was a 94 year-old World War II veteran. Navalny took exception to this video, and in his blunt way, he described the participants in it as corrupt hacks. Now, you may think it's a rather rude thing to say, and a rather rude way to speak, but rudeness, in English terms at least, is not equated with criminality. Needless to say, Navalny was prosecuted, in this instance for insulting a Second World War veteran. On this occasion, he was not given a separate prison sentence, and only because, through some grievous omission on the part of the Russian Criminal Code, the offense he was charged under did not carry a prison sentence. Now, this was a source of great agitation in the Duma after this, that Navalny had not been given a condign sentence, and this was quickly and swiftly remedied, and a new law was introduced swiftly in March of 2021, where it is now a crime to publicly disseminate knowingly false information about World War II veterans. And the state speaker said, "It is unacceptable "to insult those who defended the motherland, "it is our duty to protect the memory "of our grandfathers and great-grandfathers, "thanks to whom we are alive today." You'll understand now why it is now considered rather dangerous by Russian libraries and bookshops to stock books by eminent and objective historians of the Second World War, such as Anthony Beevor and John Keegan. The use of the courts to rewrite history extends even further, and although I haven't got time to go into it now, we have a scenario of multiple prosecutions against individuals who have sought, since the fall of communism, to remember, and bring to bear, and bring back into the public memory the crimes perpetrated during the Soviet Union period, and attempts of remembrance and accountability in respect of the crimes of, say, the Great Terror of the 1930s, have led to oppression against the individuals who've sought to do that. And many of you will remember that, last year, the remarkable NGO set up in Russia immediately after the fall of communism called Memorial, designed to remember the victims of Soviet oppression, was banned, and has been effectively liquidated by a Russian court. I've noted the time, so insofar as you ought to know about that, it's a truly appalling story, which I mention in the lecture notes, which will be published online. We move to February, 2022 and the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, where the war against truth moves up yet a further notch. In March, 2022, the so-called Russian Fake News Law is brought in, now making it a criminal offense, sentenceable by up to 15 years in prison, to knowingly disseminate false information about the Russian armed forces or to discredit them. You'll have read about this offense, under which many, many prosecutions have ensued. The most egregious, perhaps, is of a gentleman, I've missed over that, this gentleman here, a very brave man called Alexei Gorinov, a local politician, who, after the invasion had started,

said these words:

"How can we talk about a children's drawing competition," that being the subject matter, presumably, of the local government discussion, "when children are dying every day? "About 100 children have been killed in Ukraine, "and children are becoming orphans. "I believe that all effort of civil society "should be aimed at stopping war "and withdrawing troops from Ukraine," this gentleman said at a council meeting in March of 2022. He was sentenced in July of this year to seven years in prison. Seven years in prison for uttering those words. I finally revert back to Alexei Navalny, we left him last in a penal colony in February, 2021, serving his suspended sentence that had been de-suspended. Is he being allowed to just see out his sentence, unharried by the authorities? You'll be unsurprised to know the answer is no. He was prosecuted in March of this year under fresh embezzlement charges, this time of apparently stealing money from his own anti-corruption organization, to the tune of $4.7 million, and he was found guilty in March of this year and sentenced to nine years in a maximum security prison. The heart of the charge is that he raised money for his presidential campaign knowing that he would be unable to participate in it because of his conviction, and therefore he defrauded his political donors who had funded his campaign. And even now, further charges are being leveled against him for being a member of a so-called extremist organization, being his own anti-corruption organization, now designated as, so-called, an extremist organization. It seems absolutely clear that the attitude of the authorities is to keep Navalny in prison essentially forever. There was an extraordinary article, a very interesting article yesterday in "The Sunday Times" by Mark Galeotti, who's, as you will know, a very interesting figure who writes about Russia, and is a great expert on Russia, who likened the current trajectory of Russia to its turning into a version of North Korea. I think it's fair to say that Navalny's own personal experience, from the optimism of the late '90s, from the birth of some form of democracy in the late '90s and early 2000s, into the state that it's now become, into his own predicament, is testament to that miserable and tragic trajectory. Thank you so much. (audience applauds) - Thank you, Thomas, a beautiful presentation. Can I kick off the questioning by asking you to comment on the fact that, first of all, we're seeing an equivalent use of the law by Trump and others in the United States as a repeated litiginous strategy, so at what point does the legal profession itself become complicit in the actions of a state? - Gosh, that is a very difficult question. On one view, an independent lawyer, such as myself, I'm self-employed, and in England, prosecutions and defenses are handled, not entirely, but often handled by independent, self-employed barristers, such as myself, and if you are, as a barrister, instructed by the prosecution to present a prosecution, then it's not for you to question the wisdom of that prosecution. What you can't do, as an independent, self-employed barrister in England, is continue a prosecution which you know to be either hopeless or you believe to be bogus, it's your obligation, at that stage, to withdraw from the prosecution, and it's your obligation to cease the prosecution. One of the glories, speaking patriotically and in my own defense, one of the glories of the English legal system is that it has this body of people who are independent, self-employed barristers who handle prosecutions, as well as defense, and one of the downsides of a state prosecution service is that, effectively, it doesn't allow for independence of mind. A barrister in England asked to prosecute a case who takes the view that the case cannot properly be brought, because of lack of evidence or a concern about the motives behind the prosecution, will, unhesitatingly, say, this prosecution must be brought to an end. When you have a state prosecution service, then, of course, those checks and balances, that independence of mind, goes, you have an individual who's employed by the state, and his or her income and continued employment may well depend on actually continuing the prosecution and not asking those hard questions about the validity of the prosecution. Fortunately, in England, although we have Crown Prosecution Service as well, which is set up with a number of employees, it is a very independent organization, with the result that the rule of law exists in this country in a way that, although we have criticisms of events in the criminal law, no doubt, ultimately, the rule of law survives in this country. That's a very, very long answer to a short question, I apologize for that, Martin. - [Questioner] Thank you very much, it was very interesting. I wonder if you could perhaps comment on what the potential trajectory is for this, 'cause if, for example, you say that the intention is to keep Alexei Navalny in prison indefinitely, presumably to insulate him from criticizing Putin, if the scenario is when Putin is eventually not in power anymore, do you think there's potential for some sort of addressing of these sorts of injustices, or will state power maintain its position and keep these people in prison because they'll just criticize the next person if they don't? - A very interesting question. The bravery of the return to Russia I don't think can be overstated, given that he will have known that he was returning, despite the fact that he'd been the victim of an assassination attempt, he must have known that he would be arrested, on whatever charged they could work out. The rule of law has been gradually eroding in Russia over a protracted period of time, and by February, 2021, it was not in a healthy state, so Navalny foresaw precisely the outcome of any return, so he foresaw that he would be imprisoned. Whether he could foresee precisely for how long, I don't know, I'm not privy to that information, but it was an extraordinarily brave decision. And one assumes that the political calculus behind it was that, I, from a prison cell, will become a beacon of justice and of opposition, even though I'm partially, if not entirely silenced from going about the kind of activities that I was engaging in. Presumably, the calculus was that I will become this symbol of oppression and opposition from a prison cell, and of course one's seen that in history, and of course the most obvious example is Nelson Mandela, he spent 28 years in a prison cell, between 1962 and 1989, 1990, and even from a prison cell, became the most famous political prisoner in the world, became one of the most famous men in the world, and it may be that the same trajectory is being foreseen by Navalny. Of course, you ask what about if Putin falls, of course, I don't pretend to be great expert in any way on that question, if he falls, it's of course a common event that when, if there is a change of government, if there's a change of government from a groundswell of opposition from the people, then one assumes he will, just like happened to Mandela in the late '80s and early '90s, he will be released to become the binding figure within Russia. But the difference between Mandela and Navalny, sadly, is that Mandela was the hero of 80% of the South African population. Navalny is a hero to many people, but there is still, in Russia, through the propaganda techniques that have been so vigorously and effectively perpetrated in Russia it's not as if 80% of the population are Navalnyites, who are only disabled from rising up through state oppression, Putin has still got very substantial support amongst the Russian population. Navalny is not an overwhelmingly popular figure in Russia. You might find that surprising given that everything he stands for is essentially positive, as against everything that Putin stands for, which, to our liberal eyes in the West, is essentially negative. Liberalism in Russia is not embedded in any way, and even in the relatively free elections of the past, the liberal parties of Russia generally attracted very small votes. And the annexation of Crimea in 2015 was an enormously popular event within Russia. So it's a very interesting question you ask, I don't have an immediate answer, but I don't think Navalny's in a position where he thinks that, when there is a change of government, he'll be released and gloriously become the main politician within Russia, I think that's very unlikely, sadly, sadly, because the values he stands for are values which are very close to the values which we take for granted in this country, and which the West takes for granted. - Thank you, Thomas. I'm really sorry that I'm going to have to draw the questioning to an end because we have to hand the hall back. I'm not sure that the Liberal Party in this country would feel equally optimistic about their future. - Well, liberalism in the broadest sense of the term. (audience laughs) - Thank you very much for a wonderful lecture and a very moving one, and perhaps we will have you back in the future. Thank you very much. - Thank you, Martin. (audience applauds)