ST. PETERSBURG, Russia -- Two activists from a group known as "Set'" (Network) have gone on trial in St. Petersburg on terrorism charges that opposition figures and rights defenders have called "fabricated."
The Military Court of the 224th Garrison in Russia's second-largest city opened the trial of Viktor Filinkov and Yuly Boyarshinov to the defendants' relatives and several journalists on February 26, a day after the court held a 20-minute closed-door session to start the proceedings. Dozens of other people and journalists were barred from entering the courtroom.
The trial started 15 days after a court in another Russian city, Penza, sentenced seven other activists of the group to prison terms of between six years and 18 years after convicting them of terrorism.
The group members were arrested in October 2017 for allegedly creating a terrorist group with cells in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Penza, and Omsk, as well as in neighboring Belarus.
Responding to an RFE/RL inquiry on February 26, Belarusian authorities said they aren’t aware of a “Network” cell existing in Belarus.
Mikalay Karpenkov, head of the organized crime and corruption fighting department at the Belarusian Interior Ministry, furthermore said that such “information is fake.”
Russian investigators said the group planned to organize a series of explosions in Russia during the presidential election and the World Cup soccer tournament in 2018 "to destabilize the situation" in the country and to organize an armed uprising.
Rights activists have said the charges are false, while some of those arrested have claimed they were tortured while in custody. The Investigative Committee has rejected the claims.
Amnesty International called the terror charges "a figment of the Russian security services' imagination...fabricated in an attempt to silence these activists."
The London-based human rights watchdog has called the case "the latest politically-motivated abuse of the justice system to target young people."
Two other activists initially arrested in the case, Igor Shishkin and Yegor Zorin, made deals with the investigators and testified against the others.
Shishkin received 3 1/2 years in prison in January 2019, while the case against Zorin was closed in September 2018.