Khodorkovsky’s Speech to Oslo Freedom Forum

October 29, 2014

The final day of the 2014 Oslo Freedom Forum began this morning at 9:30am Central European Time (3:30am Eastern).

Today’s program started with “Journeys to Freedom,” featuring speeches of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, North Korean refugee Hyeonseo Lee, Bangladeshi child marriage abolitionist Shorna Shahida Akter, Palestinian writer and online activist Iyad el-Baghdadi, Gambian journalist Fatou Jaw Manneh, and Ecuadorean investigative journalist and TV host Janet Hinostroza.

The full speech of Mikhail Khodorkovsky can be viewed and read in full text below.


“Dear Friends! What it means to be a prisoner in Russia is something I know firsthand. But I am not going to speak about myself today; I want to speak about today’s Russian political prisoners. Not about all of them, of course – it would be quite impossible to tell about all of them in this talk. I am going to tell you about the ones who having came out to a peaceful demonstration paid for this with their own freedom.

In August of ’68, when Soviet troops entered Prague, out of 250 million Soviet citizens only seven cared enough to come out on Red Square on 25 August to express their protest against the occupation of a country. The Soviet court sent them off into internal exile, to the camps, and into psychiatric hospitals. The most famous slogan back then, in ’68, sounded like this: “For your freedom and ours!”

On 6 May of 2012, it was no longer 7 people who came out to protest “for your freedom and ours” in Moscow, the way it had been in ’68, but over 50 thousand. This was a lawful civic action. Mass falsifications in the parliamentary and presidential elections in Russia of winter and spring of 2011-2012 made the people take to the streets.

On the 6th of May entire families of Muscovites came out together, with children, with friends. They carried satirical posters, balloons, flowers, and white ribbons – the symbol of the winter protests. The people were in a peaceful mood – something that can not be said about the police. The third inauguration of president Putin was going to take place the next day, May 7, and the police had apparently received an order to act roughly.

The organizers had gotten prior approval from the Moscow authorities for the route of the march. But as the crowd of many thousands started getting closer to a little park on Bolotnaya Square, it became clear that the police had violated the agreed-upon arrangement.

Solid ranks of special units of the police were blocking the way of the demonstrators. The only way to get to the place where the rally was to be held was through a “narrow bottleneck”. All of this created a situation where the crowd began to get crushed.

A part of the demonstrators sat down on the asphalt, demanding that the approved route be cleared, while those coming up behind were pressing against those who were in front. In the end, the crowd burst through the cordon at one point, and violent clashes between the demonstrators and the police ensued. The police began beating the unarmed citizens with truncheons and kicking them.

Around 450 demonstrators were detained right there at the rally. And about a month after that, in June of 2012, began the arrests of the people who, in the opinion of the investigation, had participated in the clashes with the police. It became obvious that the authorities were preparing a political show trial, which was given the name “the Bolotnaya case” by the press.

According to unofficial data, approximately 50 participants in the demonstration were forced to flee the country, and some of them even to ask for political asylum abroad. Among them was Alexander Dolmatov, a young aircraft designer from a closed defense enterprise, who committed suicide in Rotterdam’s deportation center after his request to be granted political asylum in The Netherlands had been denied.

The arrests continued over the course of more than two years after the rally. The most recent arrest came quite recently, just this past summer.

Far from all of the arrestees were political activists; the greater part were simply concerned, not-indifferent citizens who had come out to protest against the authorities’ brazenly barefaced cheating in the elections.

The alleged offenders behaved with courage and dignity during the trial.

Denis Lutskevich, a 20 year old student at a university of humanitarian sciences, former marine, a participant in the Victory Parade on Red Square. 6 May was the first time he had ever taken part in a demonstration; he went together with his girlfriend. The footage of Denis beaten up by the police was shown all over the Russian internet.

Artyom Savelov, former worker at the Moscow metro. He was charged among other things with shouting anti-government slogans – this despite the fact that he suffers from a severe stutter and even had difficulty making his final statement at the trial – the shortest of all the final statements by the Bolotnaya prisoners.

Alexey Polikhovich had been indicted on only one charge – participation in mass disorders – until President Putin said in December of 2012 that – and I quote – “people ought not be arrested for participating in mass actions”.

The investigation heard the President’s words in its own special way. Instead of releasing Polikhovich, they immediately added on another charge of “use of force against a representative of authority” and kept him behind bars.

A 59 year old Muscovite Yelena Kokhtaryova, a defendant in what was already the so-called Second Trial, was given a suspended sentence of 3 years and 3 months; she, a pensioner fully admitted her guilt – she had been protecting a young person from being beaten by OMON employees.

Dmitry Ishevsky, a military college graduate, a counselor in a cadet corps, was the last to be arrested, at the end of May 2014, 2 years after the events on Bolotnaya Square. A week ago the court sentenced him to 3 years and two months in a general-regime colony.

Listen to a few excerpts from the Final Statements of the defendants in the First Trial of the Bolotnaya Case.

The case of Mikhail Kosenko was separate and one of the most complicated. Mikhail had suffered an injury while serving in the Soviet army, as a result of which he was enrolled as a patient at a psycho-neurological clinic and is a group II invalid. He has always received treatment on an outpatient basis.

Kosenko happened to find himself next to the place where a scuffle with one of the OMON fighters took place. There is neither video nor photo evidence showing that Kosenko took part in the actual fight. And indeed, the injured OMON serviceman was not able to identify Mikhail.

Nevertheless, he was charged with a serious offense: use of force dangerous to life and health in relation to a representative of authority. The court referred to an expert examination conducted by the institute of psychiatry that lasted less than an hour and deemed Mikhail Kosenko mentally incompetent and he was sent into forced treatment at a psychiatric hospital, where there are neither lawyers nor any opportunity to protest court decisions.

I would like to cite several phrases from Mikhail’s final statement:

“The greatest value in a country is freedom. This is precisely what the majority of the population of our country is deprived of to one or another extent… Having severely restricted the area for conducting the rally, in contrast with the one that had been approved, the authorities considered their unlawful demands to be law. Because the power thinks that it is the law. The police regarded the demonstrators as their enemies; this means they had been sensitized in this way in advance, to act harshly, to react harshly. This was a political confrontation. The demonstrators were coming with a protest against unfair elections… A demand for fair elections is the most fair of demands”.

Just ponder this for a moment: can a person considered to be mentally retarded by the authorities really be capable of expressing his thoughts so well?

This summer, after being locked away for two years, Mikhail Kosenko was released from the psychiatric infirmary after repeat expert examinations that took place under the close scrutiny of society at large and the professional community of doctors. Kosenko’s release is an example of consistent civic participation, of the importance of public attention to the fate of a person who has fallen under the wheels of the state’s machinery. I am glad that I was able to make what contribution I could to his release.

Yet another trial of the defendants in the Bolotnaya case – the sixth one already – took place several months ago. Three of the people were given real prison sentences.

43 year old publisher Alexander Margolin – 3 and a half years in jail.

Ilya Gushin, a 25 year old graduate of the Moscow psychologico-pedagogical university – two and a half years in jail.

Alexey Gaskarov, a civic activist, one of the leaders of the Antifaschist movement. Over the course of a year after the events on Bolotnaya Square, he attempted to get a criminal investigation started up of his beating by policemen. During the mass detentions at the rally he had asked the OMONs “What are you doing?” In response they struck him with a rubber truncheon in the face, after which they threw him to the ground and began kicking him. Gaskarov received laceration wounds to the head.

An investigation against the police employees was not started, of course. Instead, Alexey ended up being arrested himself. Here is what his spouse has to say.

It was with this same phrase –“even if the path to freedom lies through jails, we are prepared to take it” – that Alexey concluded his final statement at the trial.

The next day after the crackdown on the peaceful demonstration on Bolotnaya Square, when hundreds of people still remained in custody in police stations, came the day of Vladimir Putin’s third inauguration.

Morning, a weekday, Moscow is empty. The streets are closed off to the city’s motorists and pedestrians. The city, devoid of people and cars, presented a fantastical sight – like a scene from some kind of totalitarian anti-utopia.

What can we do for the political prisoners in Russia? What we can do is tell the world about what kind of values the people who came out on Bolotnaya Square on 6 May stood for. For the sake of what was all this being done? It seems to me that the key words here are freedom and love for the Motherland, a sense of responsibility for our country’s future.

And today – just like in the long-ago year of ’68 – these desires run completely counter to the plans of the regime. For their desire for freedom, people are having to pay with their own freedom. Let there not be forget about them! Here are their names.

Thank you!”