“Or we’ll rape you”. Convicted for attempting to burn a police van at an anti‑war rally in Moscow, activist recounts torture in Siberian detention
Анна Павлова
“Or we’ll rape you”. Convicted for attempting to burn a police van at an anti‑war rally in Moscow, activist recounts torture in Siberian detention
12 March 2024, 12:11

Art: Boris Khmelny / Mediazona

In early February, Anton Zhuchkov and Vladimir Sergeev convicted of attempting to set fire to a police van during an anti-war rally in Pushkin Square in Moscow in 2022, were transferred from a Moscow detention centre to an unknown location. It took a month for Solidarity Zone, a group supporting anti-war activists, to discover that two men from Omsk in Siberia had been moved to prisons in Krasnoyarsk, another Siberian city. There, they are set to spend the first three years of their court-ordered sentences: nearly ten years for Zhuchkov and almost eight for Sergeev. During the transfer, the friends found themselves in a Krasnoyarsk detention centre, where they were forced to sign an agreement to “cooperate” with the administration. Solidarity Zone shared with Mediazona a lawyer’s interview with Zhuchkov, in which he recounts the pressure from guards and torture by other inmates.

Cell No. 169. Beatings and threats of rape with a toilet brush

On February 17, anti-war activists Anton Zhuchkov and Vladimir Sergeev were transferred to the Detention Centre No. 1 in the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk, some 900 miles away from their home place, Omsk. They spent just over a week there before being transferred to the prisons where they are to serve part of their sentences: Zhuchkov to Minusinsk and Sergeev to Yeniseisk.

A few days later, on February 20, Zhuchkov told his lawyer, Yulia Terekhova, that one day he was taken out of his cell for a conversation with an officer. On the way, he managed to briefly talk to Sergeev, who said that the night before, he had spent the night in cell No. 169, after which he “under pressure” signed a “cooperation statement.”

Cooperation was also discussed with Zhuchkov. “[Officials] suggested that I work for them: listen to what my cellmates were saying, watch who was hiding prohibited items. I refused,” he said during the conversation with his lawyer.

On February 21, an officer with the last name Voevodin transferred Zhuchkov to cell No. 169, the one Sergeev had warned him about. There, he was met by three convicts who, according to the activist, were familiar with his personal file: they said they knew everything about him, behaved rudely, and called the 40-year-old Zhuchkov “Antoshka,” a very casual diminutive nickname. “One was muscular and shaved bald, said he was 31. The second, who said he was a former officer, said he was about 40. I don’t remember details about the third, he’s 25–30,” Zhuchkov described them.

That same day, his cellmates beat him for refusing to cooperate with the administration. As Zhuchkov later noted in a statement to the Investigative Committee, this was done with the knowledge and at the behest of the detention centre staff.

“They said, ‘Sign a statement, or we’ll rape you.’ I refused. After that, they threw me into the toilet and started hitting me with their hands on the head, neck, back. I thought one rib was damaged, but it turned out to be cartilage displacement. There was also a bruise left on my back. One held my arms, the other my legs. They pulled down my pants and threatened to use a toilet brush for sexual assault, as there was no mop,” Zhuchkov told his lawyer.

Realising that he could actually be raped, Zhuchkov agreed to the prisoners’ demands. “I renounce extremist beliefs and also undertake to cooperate with the Federal Penitentiary Service of the Krasnoyarsk Krai and Russian special services in solving crimes,” he quoted the text of the statement to his lawyer. One of his cellmates, who introduced himself as a former officer, said that Zhuchkov would only need to “work with the FSB.” “I regarded this as empty chatter,” the activist said.

Signing the statement was not the end of it—Zhuchkov had to write a brief biography of himself and answer the convicts’ questions: what he knew about Sergeev’s ties to Ukraine, whether he was dealing drugs (he said he knew nothing about it), and who was writing letters to him personally.

“I said ordinary citizens. They asked who from the Black Cross organisation was corresponding with me. As I understood it, they had this information from Sergeev,” Zhuchkov claims. Just a few days before, Russian authorities designated the Anarchist Black Cross Federation, a human rights organization that helps prisoners, as an “undesirable organization.” This classification means that any association with it could lead to criminal charges.

Zhuchkov was returned to his previous cell, but his former cellmates were no longer there. According to him, they were replaced by “two repeat offenders” who pressured him, trying to convince him that he should not refuse to cooperate, “verbally insulting and humiliating” him.

On February 26, Zhuchkov was transferred to prison.

Art: Boris Khmelny / Mediazona

Prison. New demands to cooperate

Currently, Zhuchkov is in prison under quarantine. In the Russian penal system, prisons are distinct correctional facilities reserved for those convicted of particularly serious crimes and dangerous repeat offenders; they are characterised by constant cell confinement, unlike the more ubiquitous communal settings of penal colonies.

Zhuchkov’s lawyer, Maria Terekhova, told Mediazona that he is doing fine and “trying to keep his spirits up.” She saw her client on March 4. “At that point, it seemed as if he was safer and calmer in the Minusinsk prison because he was in quarantine with one person, a Muslim. Well, he’s managing quite well, I sent him a letter with response forms. I hope he replies to me about what the new cell is like and the specific regime he’s under, because he’s still awaiting assignment to the cell where he will be permanently,” the lawyer notes.

Terekhova has submitted requests to the Investigative Committee and the prosecutor’s office to start a criminal case against the cellmates who assaulted Zhuchkov. She’s also asking for the seizure of video footage showing Zhuchkov being moved from one cell to another, along with officer reports justifying these transfers. “[I’ve raised concerns] about how, upon his return to a cell, they placed him with two repeat offenders; those serving their first sentence cannot be housed with individuals who have been convicted multiple times,” she pointed out.

Zhuchkov, according to Terekhova, is worried that his complaint might lead to false charges against him for making a baseless accusation. “He’s convinced that they will find a way to extend his sentence regardless. But I’ve explained to him that concocting charges isn’t straightforward. Typically, additional charges come from either talking to cellmates who are cooperating with the prison staff, or from major regime violations,” she said.

Despite his fears, Zhuchkov decided it was important to make his story of torture public. “They will pressure me, and I’m supposed to keep silent—no, the truth must be known,” Terekhova quoted her client’s rationale.

Prison staff have also already offered the activist to cooperate, but, in Terekhova’s opinion, this is more of a “routine procedure” and not related to what happened in the detention centre. In her clarification of the interview, Terekhova mentioned that a prison official had suggested to Zhuchkov that he should submit weekly reports detailing any prohibited items or rule violations he observed, warning that refusal would relegate him to “the lowest caste” among prisoners, a group subjected to daily abuse. When Zhuchkov declined the offer, he was told to reconsider.

“But he categorically refuses to collaborate with the administration, as it goes against his moral principles!” Terekhova highlighted in her clarification. She detailed how Zhuchkov, upon his arrival at the prison, shared with other inmates that he was coerced into signing a cooperation document while in the detention centre. “There, reactions varied—some said signing under pressure was understandable, while someone disapproved, insisting on the imperative to refuse. Anton has some regrets, like he made a mistake by signing. I’ve tried to reassure him that any action taken when facing threats to one’s life and health is normal,” Terekhova said.

Action against the war in Ukraine. Why Zhuchkov and Sergeev were convicted

Anton Zhuchkov and Vladimir Sergeev, who had moved from their native Omsk to Moscow several years ago, were detained near Pushkin Square at the very beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine on March 6, 2022. They were en route to an anti-war demonstration, part of the protests still active in Moscow at the time. The security forces demanded to see their IDs and inspect their backpacks, during which Zhuchkov and Sergeev ingested methadone pills in a suicide attempt, an act recorded by police dash cameras.

Art: Boris Khmelny / Mediazona

Sergeev’s backpack contained Molotov cocktails, leading to their detention. Under methadone’s influence, Sergeev remarked on possibly using the cocktails “set fire to a couple of your roach coaches.”

In the police footage, one of the security officers can be heard threatening the detainees: “You’re heading to jail, you freaks. You’ll be forced to sit on a bottle like roosters. You fuckers, I swear you will.” The threat combined a derogatory term for sexually abused prisoners with a reference to a brutal 2012 incident of police violence that prompted widespread outrage.

Already on the way to the police station, Zhuchkov fell ill and lost consciousness, and he was hospitalised; later, Sergeev was also taken to the same hospital. Doctors diagnosed both with methadone poisoning.

Ten days later, they were charged in a case of attempted hooliganism by a group using weapons. Subsequently, these charges were escalated following an FSB report labeling the duo as “dedicated proponents of radical anarchist ideology,” intent on “violently overthrowing constitutional order.” Consequently, the case against Sergeev and Zhuchkov was upgraded to planning a group terrorist act.

Vladimir Sergeev initially admitted guilt, explaining that he wanted to express protest “against the military operation in Ukraine and confrontation with the West.” When asked by the investigator how he could convey the essence of his protest if he tried to commit suicide, Sergeev replied, “The essence of my act would have been clear regardless of whether I remained alive or not. I was at an anti-war rally and protesting against this.”

In his testimony, he also testified against Zhuchkov, saying that it was he who had bought 1.5 grams of methadone and passed some of it to him. As a result, his friend was charged with another offence: drug trafficking on a significant scale. Later, Sergeev recanted his confession, explaining that he had given it under pressure from security forces who had beaten him.

From the start, Zhuchkov denied any wrongdoing, maintaining he was unaware of the Molotov cocktails in Sergeev’s backpack, his actions driven by a desire for suicide. He explained his choice to take methadone as a way to escape the reality of the war in Ukraine, the situation in Donbas, and fears of nuclear conflict. “I wanted to end my life to avoid witnessing what comes next, including concerns over the future poverty of the youth,” he stated.

In April of the previous year, the 2nd Western District Military Court handed down sentences of ten years for Zhuchkov and eight for Sergeev, which were later reduced by two months.

They will have to spend the first three years in prison, so both of them were sent 2.5 thousand miles from Moscow to the Krasnoyarsk krai. According to lawyer Maria Terekhova, Zhuchkov has already been placed on a watch list in three categories: as prone to suicide, propagating extremist ideology, and prone to drug and alcohol use.

“He wants to go work in garment production and go to the gym there,” the lawyer says. “He promised to write if suddenly there are problems with employment there because of this article.”

Editor: Maria Klimova

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