The conviction and harsh sentence for Taisia Osipova follow a trial that was marked by dubious testimony and the exclusion of exculpatory evidence. She and her allies argue that her arrest was part of an attempt to target her husband for his political activity — and now a key prosecution witness has come forward to corroborate that charge.
Osipova is an unlikely heroine. A 26-year-old diabetic without much education, she generously salts her conversations with profanity and, as a member of the fringe Bolshevik National Party, once walked up to the governor of the Smolensk region and struck him in the face with a bouquet of carnations.
She gave up such activism when her daughter was born six years ago, and she’s not part of the big-city, middle-class cohort that has turned out recently for demonstrations. Yet some of the young stars of the new political movement — as well as the members of a guerrilla art collaborative and a famous rock singer — have rallied to her side. Far from keeping their distance from her, they are demanding her release.
“She’s in jail as a hostage,” said Zoya Svetova, who writes about crime and civil rights for the crusading journal New Times in Moscow. “This is a political prosecution.”
An added dimension
The case against Osipova began more than a year ago. Investigators obtained a warrant to tap her phone on the grounds that her husband, Sergei Fomchenkov, was sending money from Moscow to pay for illegal party work in Smolensk, according to a copy of the warrant provided by Fomchenkov.
When she was arrested in November 2010, he says, police told her they’d let her go if she could persuade him to return to Smolensk. This is typical of a system that also relies on arresting businessmen to force them to pay bribes, and an example of the official lawlessness that is one of the chief complaints of the political opposition.
But a criminal case that began as an investigation of a small radical group — which now calls itself Other Russia — took on an added dimension as political protests attracted thousands after the Dec. 4 parliamentary elections. Osipova was sentenced Dec. 30.
“People can’t understand such cruel, unfounded treatment,” said Osipova’s attorney, Natalia Shaposhnikova. “And now everybody thinks — it could happen to me.”
Svetlana Sidorkina, a human rights lawyer in Moscow who also worked on Osipova’s case, thinks the intimidation can be effective. “People here remember 1937, they can be scared,” she said, referring to the worst year of Joseph Stalin’s purges.
“They gave her such a harsh sentence to show the people who came out on the streets that they mean nothing,” said Fomchenkov, who has remained in Moscow and continues his work for the un-registered party. “The authorities can do whatever they want. They spit in the faces of the people.”