How Russian dissenters end up with drug charges
“228 – you can’t plant drugs on everyone!”
This was the motto shouted by participants of the march in support of investigative journalist Ivan Golunov in Moscow on June 12.
Police tried to plant drugs on Golunov in early June, and he was charged with Article 228 of the Russian Criminal Code – hence the motto.
Article 228 has become one of the most popular tools of the government in the fight against opposition journalists and figures in the country.
Novaya Gazeta looked into the processes generally accompanied by a charge according to Article 228.
A ‘people’s article’
228 is called a ‘people’s article’ – 74,752 people were charged under the article in 2018 alone. That is more than any other charge in Russia.
More than half of those charged and convicted under 228 are in between the ages of 18-34 years old – 61 per cent.
More than half of the convicts — 57 percent — serve a sentence of two to five years for consumption.
If a person is accused of drug dealing, the term can increase to 15 years. This was the accusation levied against Golunov.
Similarly, the term increases if the volume of drugs is “significant” or “large”.
An exact measurement
Significant quantities of drugs include: marijuana – six grams, hashish – two grams, mephedrone – 0.2 grams, heroin – 0.5 grams.
Large quantities of drugs are defined as: 100 grams of marijuana, 25 grams of hashish, 2.5 grams of mephedrone and 2.5 grams of heroin.
Experts from the Institute for Problems of Law Enforcement, who published a study in 2017 that focuses on drug seizure statistics, note a tendency: the quantity of drugs that are confiscated from people charged with drug crimes is often just barely over the ‘significant’ or ‘large’ quantity threshold. Much less often is the alleged amount discovered just a little less. In total, 54,000 cases of heroin confiscation were analyzed.
An instrument to fight dissent
The charge of possession or sale of drugs in Russia is often used against critics of the current government. The case of journalist Ivan Golunov is far from the first.
There is a similar case in Pskov, where the local activist of the Open Russia opposition organization Artyom Milushkin has been under arrest for five months, and his wife Lia Milushkina under house arrest.
They are accused of selling large quantities of drugs.
Milushkin was detained on January 16, 2019. Employees of the Office for the Control of Illicit Drug Trafficking, accompanied by special forces in masks and with guns, broke into the house of Artyom and Lia.
They broke the glass, scaring young children, handcuffed the spouses and conducted a four-hour search.
“It seems to me that the affairs of my son and Ivan Golunov are similar. I even called Ivan’s lawyer when he was still under arrest, and asked him to convey my words of support.
My son Artem Milushkin has been in prison for five months now. His spirits are low. He has severe bronchial asthma and hypertension. He never dealt with drugs. This is probably due to his political activity, someone is trying to settle a score”, said Artyom’s mother, Irina Milushkina.