Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 4 Issue: 40

The use of ostensibly criminal cases to pursue political objectives, a well-established tactic in both Soviet and post-Soviet Russia, is apparently being used again to silence those who challenge the official version of the 1999 and 2002 terrorist attacks in Russia. A KGB officer turned dissident lawyer, who has helped investigate the security agencies’ alleged involvement in terrorist attacks, is now under arrest for the illegal possession of a pistol. The lawyer, Mikhail Trepashkin, charges that the weapon was planted on him and that he is being framed.

Trepashkin is being tried in the city of Dmitrov just outside Moscow, with what Grani.ru described on October 24 as “an unprecedented degree of security” both inside and outside the courtroom, including dozens of OMON special police. His guilt or innocence is to be decided in a “closed” trial reminiscent of Soviet judicial practice, with no independent observers admitted.

The independent movement For Human Rights issued a public protest against Trepashkin’s arrest, stating that “a lawyer who has already displeased the special services is obviously not going to carry an illegal handgun on his person.” The statement observed that it has become a standard practice for the security organs to bring such fabricated charges against people whom they find “inconvenient.”

“If the provocation against Trepashkin is not halted immediately,” declared the human rights group, “then we shall consider that it is sanctioned by the highest level of the law enforcement agencies.”

Trepashkin had been working with an independent commission formed to investigate the 1999 bombings of several apartment buildings in Russia. Evidence that the Russian government has never satisfactorily explained links those bombings to the FSB (see Chechnya Weekly, June 5). According to an account by Florian Hassel, the veteran Moscow correspondent of the German newspaper Frankfurter Rundschau, which appeared in his recently published book Der Krieg im Schatten (“The War in the Shadows”), Trepashkin identified an FSB officer involved in what seems to have been an FSB plot to blow up an apartment building and then to blame it on the Chechens.

Last year the independent commission, chaired by the veteran human rights activist and federal Duma member Sergei Kovalev, added to its agenda the October 2002 attack on Moscow’s Dubrovka theater. Trepashkin had provided the commission with information about the shadowy figure of Ruslan Elmurzaev, alias “Abubakar,” thought by some to be a Russian double agent manipulating or even directing Movsar Baraev and the other Chechen terrorists who seized the theater (see Chechnya Weekly, May 29).

Even before his recent arrest, Trepashkin had been accused of revealing state secrets. The security agencies were clearly offended by his revelation that he had attempted to warn them of Elmurzaev’s various criminal activities in Moscow months before the raid on the theater, but had been told that the FSB already knew about them. From the new charges against Trepashkin for allegedly violating Russia’s strict gun control laws, it would appear that the authorities are not fully confident of winning the trial for revealing state secrets.

Anna Politkovskaya of Novaya gazeta reported on October 30 that Trepashkin had managed from his jail cell to send a letter describing his arrest. In the letter, which she quoted at length, the dissident lawyer wrote that some seven traffic police officers stopped him as he was driving along a Dmitrov highway en route to Moscow, and demanded to search his car. “In the course of the search,” according to Trepashkin’s letter, “officer Kursky pulled out from under his reflecting vest a pouch about 20 by 30 centimeters in size, and tried to put it under my car’s back seat. I managed to release the seat, and the bag fell out. I grabbed it and gave it to Kursky, telling him ‘Stop your insolence. That is not mine, take it back.’ The officer took the pouch, unbuckled it and took out a pistol, from which he removed a cartridge clip with bullets. After this all the police officers and the witnesses whom they already prepared ran to one of the rooms of the traffic police post. I could hear that they were arguing with each other about what kind of pistol to mention in their written report….I concluded that they must have two different pistols. One officer reported twice to someone that they had stopped a car and seized a pistol….The leader was a young man, at whose direction the pistol had been planted. This officer of the Dmitrov section of the interior ministry admitted in his conversation with me that the affair had been instigated by the FSB’s section for Moscow and the Moscow oblast; he said that it would have been better for the FSB to do this in Moscow rather than dragging their territory [i.e. Dmitrov] into this dirty business.”

After his arrest, wrote Trepashkin, he was thrown into a cell “with bedbugs and lice and without a mattress, stool or chair. It was possible only to stand or lie on a filthy wooden floor, covered with feces. At night the bugs crawled all over my body and clothes.”

According to the website Grani.ru, Trepashkin took part in an FSB investigation of illegal arms sales in Chechnya in 1995. That investigation was closed by orders from his superiors, after which Trepashkin was fired from his FSB job; he then filed a suit for illegal dismissal. According to the Grani.ru account, Trepashkin actually won that suit–but the court’s decision in his favor was never put into effect.

In his letter published by Politkovskaya, Trepashkin wrote that the authorities are accusing him of having taking part in a 1996 rebel guerrilla raid on a customs post in Chechnya–even though he has never once set foot in that republic.