The Lefortovo Court in Moscow arrested journalist Nika Novak on Monday under Article 275.1 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation. It literally reads as follows: “Establishment and maintenance of confidential cooperation relations with a representative of a foreign state by a citizen of the Russian FederationOr an international or foreign organization to assist them in activities deliberately directed against the security of the Russian Federation.
Article 275.1 of the Criminal Code entered into force in the summer of 2022, several months after the full Russian invasion of Ukraine. Since then, this article has made it very dangerous for Russians to communicate with foreigners on social networks. Any such foreigner could easily be classified by the Federal Security Service as a representative of foreign intelligence services. Even if one of his relatives lives abroad. It is unclear how the interviewer's involvement with foreign intelligence services was proven.
Details of the criminal case against Nowak (with whom she allegedly cooperated in the first place) have not been revealed: the materials are traditionally classified as “secret.” Last Monday, the joint press service of the Moscow courts gave only the article number – 275.1 – and said so Nowak has been detained until at least February 24, 2024.
The choice of preventive measure was conducted in court – again for reasons of “confidentiality” – in secret. The joint press service of the capital's courts published only photos and videos showing a woman in a cage from the side, wearing a black down jacket and carrying a small backpack behind her back. The woman's face was not shown.
What is known about Nika Novak is that she comes from Krasnokamensk in the Chita region. She studied law but devoted herself to journalism. She worked as a correspondent for the Chita Housing and Utilities portal, for the Trudovaya Slava newspaper, and for the LUTA TV channel. In recent years, she was first editor-in-chief of ChitaMedia, and then editor-in-chief of the Chita Zab.ru portal. Investigative journalism and politics were not the area of interest of these media outlets. The news was primarily local. In 2020, Nowa Gazeta Europe learned that Nowa, as editor-in-chief of ZAB.RU, participated in the filming of Alexander Gordon's program “Masculine / Feminine” on Channel One. The journalist was invited to the program after her portal published stories about the murder of two men in a shared apartment in Chita.
As established, Nowak has relatives living in Ukraine. In particular, the journalist's Facebook page lists Irina Misenko as her sister in the “Family and Relationships” section. The latter, according to her page on the social network, lives in Dnipro and works at the Dnipropetrovsk Clinical Hospital named after Mechnikwa.
Nowak herself wrote in her public Facebook post on February 24, 2022 that her entire family is Ukrainian.
However, initially, its publications about the war contained the same rhetoric used by Russian state media. So, on February 24, Nowak put the phrase “Russian attack” in quotes and spoke about the Maidan in Kiev in the winter of 2013-2014:
“In winter, there were dances in the square, when young men and fools stuck a dagger into the heart of the fraternal nation with cries of 'Moskalyak on Gilyak.' Then there were more and more burned corpses in the Odessa House of Trade Unions, severed limbs near the Luhansk Regional State Administration, The mass grave of women and girls raped by the Ukrainian army near Donetsk and buried alive… All this is only a small part of what the people of Donbass experienced…
In 2014, I was about to get married. The man's name was Vlad and he came from Luhansk. He was forced to join the militia. In the summer of the same year, he was killed by what are usually called brothers. In the fall of 2014, I went to the LNR as a journalist.
In another post from that period, Nowak criticized the “No to War” hashtag:
However, her rhetoric soon changed a bit in her open posts: “One day a miracle will happen (maybe) and the Zbaykalsk authorities will stop engaging in delusions, such as participating in the action with the letter Z.”
Or: “I can't understand a single thing. Why do supporters of what's happening use VPNs and stay on Facebook and Instagram? Guys, this is banned.”
Finally, Nowak asked her followers:
She then made her Facebook account private in March 2022.
A year and eight months later, she found herself in the capital's Lefortovo detention centre.
According to the article devoted to her, she faces a prison sentence of between three and eight years.
What kind of foreign organization is accused of secret cooperation and whether its Ukrainian relatives are the cause remains speculative.
“Nowa Gazeta Europe” tried to understand the current practice of law enforcement agencies under Art. 275.1 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation and whether those who remained in Russia can somehow protect themselves from this charge. Our questions are answered by Dmitry Zaire-Bek, President of the First Chamber, an association of lawyers and human rights activists specializing in cases related to high treason and espionage.
– not exactly. This is still a separate article of the Criminal Code, which was simply introduced into the Criminal Code on the same day that “going over to the side of the enemy” was equated with treason. But since the punishment under the last article was more severe (at that time up to 20 years for treason), there was therefore need for a separate article for which the punishment would be less – ““Secret cooperation with a foreign organization”: punishable by imprisonment from 3 to 8 years.
But so far, the issues in this article have not been initiated en masse, but rather point by point and, unfortunately, somewhat haphazardly. The investigation and practical development of these cases are carried out by the same people who incarcerate those accused in treason cases.
The first cases under Art. Article 275.1 of the Penal Code came into force in the fall of 2022. The first known defendant was Pavel Pishulin from the Penza region (he had been in the remand center in Lefortovo since the fall of 2022, and has not yet been sentenced). Nikki Nowak's case is not the first. In total, at least seven such cases will come to court in 2023.
– A certain type of cooperation is criminalised, where the element of confidentiality is, for example, personal correspondence via instant messengers. Secret methods are not available to the general public. If you communicate not through comments on social networks, but, for example, in a private message on Telegram, agents and operational investigators may consider this an element of confidentiality. We know the content of a large number of such cases, e.g. In each of these cases of which we are aware, the investigation found that the correspondence was confidential. Correspondence can be about anything.
The question is who is on the other side. The investigation may find that on the other side is, for example, an agent of the State Intelligence Agency of Ukraine, although the latter cannot give any “assignments” and may not even communicate with this person (the future accused) on some serious matters. Urgent issues related to “activities against the security of the Russian Federation”. Simply communicating with someone can be considered a prohibited act. Therefore, communication with foreigners “in order to assist in activities deliberately directed against the security of the Russian Federation” is punishable by law. This “conscious action at the expense of the security of the Russian Federation” must be proven in each individual case.
– Have rulings been issued in these cases?
– Two rulings are known so far. The first was issued against Danil Stepanov from Tula. He had two articles on his account – 275.1 and 214 Part 2 (“Sabotage”). He was sentenced to four years and six months in prison. The second ruling concerns Tatyana Solntseva from the Altai Region. She was sentenced to four years in a penal colony. However, the ruling was overturned on appeal due to serious violations of procedural law. It would be impossible for the Court of Appeal not to overturn this ruling. Serious violations have occurred. The case was returned to the court of first instance. These are two well-known cases.
— What is your advice for people living in Russia: Be careful what you write on Telegram, Messenger, who you write to, etc. How can you protect yourself from being accused of “secret cooperation with a foreign country”?
— How to protect yourself while in Russia is an existential question. We have so many crimes in the Criminal Code that you can always find something for someone in Russia. Article 275.1, as I mentioned earlier, effectively criminalizes all contacts with foreigners whose activities the investigation deems dangerous to Russia. This risk is usually confirmed by a certificate from the FSB. Therefore, even communication with relatives living abroad can be considered “secret cooperation.” We know such cases. Therefore, you cannot be completely safe.
The material itself is elastic. From the very beginning, since its appearance in the Criminal Code, it has been written in such a way that anyone can be included within its scope if the FSB so desires. There are no specific limits or limits to what is allowed in this article. Well, maybe you'll be safe if you don't come into contact with aliens. On my own. Even with relatives abroad. But of course I cannot advise you not to communicate with your relatives. So, unfortunately, there is no recipe here.
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