Pavel Zelensky is being prosecuted for inciting extremism. We believe that, despite the controversial nature of Zelensky’s emotional response, there is no evidence of an offence in his words and the prosecution should be dropped.
Memorial Human Rights Centre, in accordance with international guidelines defining the term ‘political prisoner,’ considers the Anti-Corruption Foundation cameraman Pavel Zelensky a political prisoner. We believe the criminal case against him to be politically motivated and intended both to force him to cease his opposition activities and to intimidate employees of the Anti-Corruption Foundation and supporters of politician Aleksei Navalny. We demand the immediate cessation of criminal proceedings against Pavel Zelensky and his release from detention. We advocate an end to political repression against supporters of Navalny and other opposition activists.
About Pavel Zelensky and the charges against him
On 2 October 2020 journalist Irina Slavina, who had been subjected to a humiliating search of her apartment the previous day in relation to the prosecution of opposition activist Mikhail Iosilevich, self-immolated in front of the Interior Ministry’s regional offices in Nizhny Novgorod. In a post on her Facebook page before she committed suicide she wrote: ‘Please blame the Russian Federation for my death.’
On the same day, Pavel Zelensky, a cameraman from Moscow who works for the Anti-Corruption Foundation (an organisation the Russian authorities have unlawfully declared a foreign agent), wrote two messages on Twitter about the journalist’s death. These tweets (1, 2), in which he expressed grief and in emotional, sometimes obscene, language showed a negative attitude towards the Russian authorities (who he held responsible for the tragedy), were the reason for his criminal prosecution.
On the morning of 15 January 2021 Zelensky was arrested in Moscow. At the time of his arrest, he was beaten and forced to unlock his smartphone. The same day, Moscow’s Presnensky district court remanded Zelensky in custody. The opposition activist was charged with the offence of inciting extremist activity (Article 280, Part 2, of the Russian Criminal Code). He faces up to five years in prison).
Why Memorial considers Zelensky a political prisoner
Memorial does not believe Zelensky’s actions constitute a crime. Moreover, even if the content of his tweets would formally fall within the purview of the article of the Criminal Code concerning incitement of extremism, investigators should nonetheless not have initiated criminal proceedings given the evident lack of importance of his actions.
Zelensky’s expressive statements were a spontaneous reaction to the unlawful actions of the security forces that led to the death of Irina Slavina. They contain no calls for specific extremist actions and one of the two posts contains no call of any kind but is merely an emotional expression of an attitude towards individual public officials.
Zelensky is a supporter of the Russian democratic opposition and one of Aleksei Navalny’s associates who have consistently demonstrated their commitment to exclusively peaceful methods of protest.
The self-evidently unlawful imposition of pre-trial custody in relation to a charge for a minor offence on someone with no criminal record, who has several children and who did not seek to hide from the investigators and has a permanent job and place of residence should be noted. Remanding Zelensky in custody was disproportionate with regard to the actions with which he has been charged and the degree of danger to the public they represent.
It is clear to us that Pavel Zelensky has been subject to criminal prosecution solely on account of his political views and his work for the Anti-Corruption Foundation. His prosecution is part of an ongoing crackdown against Aleksei Navalny and his supporters.
It is significant that the criminal case against Zelensky was opened on 12 January 2021, the day the Federal Penitentiary Service threatened to replace Navalny’s suspended sentence in the trumped-up ‘Postal Case’ with a real term in prison. Zelensky was arrested on 15 January, two days after Navalny announced his return to Moscow and two days before his arrival in Russia and wrongful arrest.
A detailed description of the case and the position of Memorial Human Rights Centre are set out on our website.
Recognition of an individual as a political prisoner or as a victim of politically motivated prosecution does not imply Memorial Human Rights Centre agrees with, or approves of, their views, statements, or actions.