At six in the morning of November 27, a series of searches at homes of eight members of anarchist group Autonomous Actions were carried out in the Russian city of Kirov by police officers who were accompanied by operatives of the anti-extremism E Centre. Officers seized all computer equipment, such as system units and printers, as well as music CDs and books.
Such a large-scale co-ordinated action against anarchists was conducted under pretext of investigation of a criminal case, started in autumn 2011 under Article 282 of the Russian Criminal Code (incitement of hatred or hostility, or abasement of human dignity) against organisers of a picket, which demanded that local authorities withdraw a permit for the nationalist Russian March
The activists are suspected of distributing extremist leaflets calling for violence against neo-Nazis on the night before the picket. However, as materials in the case indicate, the leaflets are a provocation organised by neo-Nazis. The provocative leaflets were immediately denounced on the website of the anti-fascist organisation Open City, however, anti-fascists, who removed as many leaflets as they could, are still treated as suspects in the case.
It has to be noted that investigation of the case is moving in unpredictable leaps and bounds. Suspects and witnesses in the case were interviewed only half a year after it was initiated. After that the case obviously stalled, and only made its next spurt now.
Such burst of activity of E Centre officers can hardly be explained by the objective need to investigate the 2011 case. If the anti-extremist officers were indeed interested in finding real perpetrators of the alleged crime, they could have conducted interviews and searches much earlier. Looking for evidence one year after the crime was commited is hardly the best possible strategy.
Much more believeable is another version: the E Centre officers decided to demonstrate for their commanding officers how active and useful for society they are, as the unit faces staff cuts. The head of main interior directorate for Kirov Region, Sergey Solodovnikov, has reportedly said about a month ago that the current staff of 28 officers are too many for the E Centre. It appears that the entire staff of the E Centre was deployed to lead the searches, which were all carried out simultaneously. Three to four E Centre officers took part in most of the searches.
None of the eight people whose homes were searched on Novembeer 27 was issued with summons but they were told they would be invited for interviews over phone or by a written notice. “As I understand, some further actions, such as interviews and such, are planned to deal with items seized during searches but there’s no doubt that nothing extremist was discovered, no copies of that leaflet in particular,” said Anton Cherepov, an activist with the Autonomous Action in Kirov.
It is hard to make predictions concerning further events yet but two main options seem plausible. The E Centre officers can calm down after their commanding officers registered a burst of activity, and leave the criminal case in peace. Or we can expect a repeat of the Nizhny Novgorod scenario and the RASH-Antifa case, which was roughly trumped up by the E Centre officers against local anti-fascists and anarchists and then pretty much fell apart in court.
In any case, such dubious activity by the Kirov anti-extremist officers is highly symptomatic for Russia’s entire law-enforcement system. At the moment, a practical and legal basis is being created for functioning of a complicated system of repression, in which freedom of any activist or dissident is under threat.