Russia: Activist Jailed on Trumped Up Drug Charges

This post is part of our special coverage Russia's Protest Movement.

Earlier this week, the list of what many are calling Russia's ‘political prisoners’ grew yet again. On August 28, an Other Russia [ru] activist Taisiya Osipova [ru] was sentenced to eight years in prison for drug possession — four years more than the prosecution had requested. Osipova, a diabetic mother, was originally sentenced to ten years, but her case was sent back to a district court for a retrial, after then-President Dmitri Medvedev publicized his disapproval of the sentence and promised [ru] to have state prosecutors “deal with the case.”

Osipova's new verdict has left bloggers questioning both Medvedev’s integrity and his remaining influence within the government. Opposition leader Boris Nemtsov wrote [ru] on his Facebook:

Д. Медведев дважды мне и моим соратникам обещал помочь освободить Таисию. Помог, как видите. Ну почему они такие ничтожные, подлые вруны???

Medvedev twice made promises to me and my colleagues to help free Taisiya. Well, you now see how he helped. Why are they such miserable, foul liars???

Flawed case for the prosecution

Strategy-31 protest dedicated to Taisiya Osipova and Pussy Riot. Petersburg, Russia. 31 August 2012, photo by Mike Kireev, copyright © Demotix.

The circumstances of Osipova's arrest and imprisonment remain suspicious. Police searching her apartment committed numerous procedural violations, with only one witness. Later, that witness claimed that he saw the police planting drugs in the apartment; his words were confirmed by a lie detector test. The court, however, dismissed his testimony.

The three young women [ru] who allegedly participated in a sting operation, purchasing drugs from Osipova, are also members of pro-Kremlin youth groups NASHI and Molodaya Gvardiya. Moreover, some evidence indicates that they were elsewhere during the supposed drug-buy. While the police usually use marked bills in sting operations, only one such bill was found in her flat. Osipova's supporters argue that it was likely planted there, along with 10 grams of heroin.

Furthermore, blogger Vladislav Naganov questions [ru] whether Osipova's harsh sentence reflects standard court practices in drug-related cases. According to his research, defendants convicted of similar crimes are usually sentenced to 2-to-4 years, instead of 8:

Буквально на днях организатора наркопритона под Калининградом (г. Черняховск) осудили на 2 года условно, хотя он был признан виновным и в незаконном приобретении, и хранении без цели сбыта наркотических средств в крупном размере.

Just recently, an organizer of a drug den near Kaliningrad (in the city of Chernyakhovsk) was sentenced to two-years probation, even though he was found guilty of illegal purchase and possession, without intent to sell.

The examples go on. Journalist Demyan Kudryavtsev believes [ru]:

Удвоить запрошенный прокурором срок по преступлению не связанному с насилием – это окончательное превращение судебной системы в карательную.

Doubling the prison term requested by the prosecutor for a non-violent offense is the final transformation of the judicial system into a punitive one.

Why was Osipova punished so severely? Her allies, which seems to include the majority of Russian netizens, believe that the authorities framed her, in order to force her to testify [ru] against her husband, Sergei Fomchenkov, a regional leader of Other Russia. That movement — particularly its leader, Eduard Limonov — is regularly targeted by police, just as law enforcement hounded its predecessor, the National Bolsheviks. As Limonov himself wrote [ru] in his blog:

Восемь лет за решеткой для женщины с диабетом, – это смертная казнь. Они хотят убить Тасю. Заметно, насколько  приговоры по нацболам суровее  простых репрессий.

Eight years in prison for a woman with diabetes is a death sentence. They want to kill Tasya. It is noticeable to what extent sentences for natzbols [members of the National Bolsheviks] are harsher than simple repressions.

Parallels with Pussy Riot

A week before Osipova's eight-year judgment was announced, the three women from Pussy Riot were sentenced to two years in prison. The two decisions seem at odds with both legal precedent and common sense. Pussy Riot, however, has become a symbol of Russia's political opposition. Osipova's case, on the other hand, has not attracted [ru] much attention from either international or domestic audiences. Global celebrities like Paul McCartney and Madonna (who spoke out on behalf of the jailed punk rockers) have been silent about Osipova, a provincial opposition activist, who will spend four times longer behind bars for actions she may never have committed in the first place.

This post is part of our special coverage Russia's Protest Movement.


  • Maia

    Great writing and very well balanced! Its no wonder that Pussy Riot has been taking the headlines. This is a travesy and miscarriage of justice for Tasiya Osipova to go to prison. Medvedev’s promise to “deal with it” of course is too glib for him. I really hope someone comes to their senses before its too late.

  • Dear Maia,

    Thank you for your comment and thank you for reading this article. I still hope that this situation will change in Russia, otherwise we will be repeating our Stalin’s past. And this is not a type of the country we all want to live in.


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