The convicts are Yury Mukhin, Valery Parfyonov, Kirill Barabash and Aleksandr Sokolov.
The process attracted some public attention in Russia because two of them were journalists – Mukhin worked as an editor in the closed newspaper ‘The Duel’ and Sokolov worked for the business-oriented news holding RBC.
One thing that united them, however, was not their work in the mass media, but participation in the organization called ‘Initiative Group for Holding a Referendum “For Responsible Authorities”’.
On Thursday, the Tverskoy District Court in Moscow ruled that the four men were guilty of participating in a banned extremist group after finding that their organization was a de facto successor of ‘The Army of the People’s Will’ – a fringe left movement that promote a political system in which every electoral term for the head of state and members of federal parliament should end in a nationwide referendum in which citizens should answer if their life has improved or deteriorated since the last elections.
Under their plan, if the majority of voters say that their lives have improved the officials should be rewarded, but if the majority feels that the living standards in the country have fallen – the ex-president and ex-lawmakers should be jailed or, in extreme cases, executed.
In late 2010, the Army of the People’s Will was banned as an extremist group after a court in Moscow recognized the calls to introduce the referendum system as an attempt to forcefully change the constitutional order in the country.
The head of the group – Mukhin – had been previously convicted of extremism for publishing openly anti-Semitic articles.
However, investigators have established that several former members of the banned movement continued their activities as the ‘Initiative Group for Holding a Referendum “For Responsible Authorities”’. They presented testimony of several witnesses and records of the convicts’ conversations and public speeches, in particular at a protest rally in May 2013 seeking to prove that the four men continued to “destabilize the political situation in Russia and replacement of the existing regime through illegal means.”
The judge sentenced Sokolov and Parfyonov to three-and-a-half years each in prison, with an additional probation period of one year. Barbarash was sentenced to four years behind bars and the court also ordered he be stripped of his military rank of Air Force lieutenant-colonel. Mukhin received a four-year suspended sentence.
All suspects pleaded innocence in court. However, they agreed that they worked in the ‘Initiative Group for Holding a Referendum “For Responsible Authorities”’, but refused to recognize their group as extremist.
In addition, Aleksandr Sokolov has claimed that he was prosecuted by the authorities for his anti-corruption investigations. The court has not supported these claims.
After the sentences were pronounced, defense attorneys said that they intended to appeal the verdict in upper court instances in Russia and also in the European Court of Human Rights.