Moscow: A Russian court on Monday sentenced a group of young anarchists to between six and 18 years in prison on terror and other charges, with critics decrying “the monstrous” punishment.
A military court in the central city of Penza handed down the verdict in the “Network” case, Sergei Morgunov, a lawyer for one of the seven defendants, told AFP.
Rights activists and defense lawyers have strongly criticized the probe overseen by the FSB security service, a successor to the KGB, saying the men had been tortured.
All seven had denied the charges.
Dmitry Pchelintsev and Ilya Shakursky were convicted of creating a “terrorist organization”, among other charges, and sentenced to 18 and 16 years in prison respectively.
The FSB accused Pchelintsev, 27, of creating the “Network” organization with the goal of overthrowing the government and seeking to attack government offices and employees.
Five other men were found guilty of participating in the organization.
Several members of the group were also convicted of the illegal possession of weapons and explosives and attempted drug trafficking.
Five of the seven men will serve their terms in a maximum-security prison.
Arrested in 2017 and 2018, most defendants have said they had been tortured in custody with electrodes and beaten to extract a confession.
One contracted tuberculosis last year while in custody, his relatives said.
The security service said it had found two Makarov pistols and grenade parts during searches.
Human rights organization Memorial said the men were political prisoners, describing them as leftist activists and anti-fascists.
Almost 50,000 people signed a petition demanding that the case be closed.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Monday that President Vladimir Putin had looked into the case “on several occasions” and tasked officials with making sure “everything is in accordance with the law”.
‘Everything made up’
Kommersant newspaper reported that the case against the “Network” had been launched after a student detained by police on a drug charge confessed to participating in the criminal group.
Memorial says there is a clear political motive behind the probe, pointing to increasing “repression against anarchists and anti-fascists”.
In 2018, the state-controlled NTV channel released a film accusing the men of self-harming while in custody and their supporters of being on the payroll of the West.
In an open letter, relatives of the defendants have called the charges against them “fabricated” and demanded a fair trial.
“Everything, in this case, has been made up,” said the letter released by For Human Rights, an NGO.
“This is a monstrously harsh verdict, but we didn’t expect anything else,” Oleg Orlov of Memorial told AFP.
Independent media said the prosecution had failed to provide any concrete evidence in court.
“They planned to plan something motivated by anarchist ideology in an undefined location at an undefined time in circumstances undefined by the investigation, together with undefined persons,” Novaya Gazeta independent newspaper summarised the prosecution’s argument.
Opposition leader Alexei Navalny said the case targeted an “invented terrorist organization”.
“Any minister in the Russian government is ten times more of a criminal and threat to public order than these guys,” he wrote on Twitter.
The “Network” affair is one of several cases initiated by the Federalnaya Sluzhba Bezopasnosti (FSB).
Critics say it is similar to another case against an alleged extremist organization called “The New Greatness” whose young members have also been accused of plotting to overthrow the government.
Critics say both cases have been fabricated by the security services using secret witnesses and confessions obtained under duress.