Russia jails members of ‘non-existent’ terror group Set

Protester holding a sign supporting the Set defendants outside FSBImage copyright
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Protesters have gathered outside FSB offices in recent weeks in defence of the men

Seven Russian anarchists and anti-fascist activists have been handed lengthy jail terms on terror charges.

A court in the city of Penza sentenced the men – said to be part of a group known as Set, meaning Network – to between six and 18 years in penal colonies.

Russian authorities say they were plotting to overthrow the government.

But rights groups and lawyers say the charges were fabricated, and the men were tortured into confessing.

Prominent opposition figure Alexei Navalny described the sentences as “horrific” in a tweet, and called the Set group a “fictitious terrorist organisation”.

A spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin reportedly said he was aware of the case and had ordered authorities “to make sure everything is in line with the law”, but would not intervene.

What happened in court?

The military court in Penza, a city 630 km (390 miles) southeast of Moscow, handed down the sentences on Monday.

All seven men – Dmitry Pchelintsev, Ilya Shakursky, Andrei Chernov, Maksim Ivankin, Mikhail Kulkov, Vasily Kuksov and Arman Sagynbaev – will be sent to penal colonies.

Pchelinstev received the longest sentence after being convicted of creating the Network. The 27-year-old was handed an 18-year term, while the other six will serve between six and 16 years and were convicted of a variety of other offences, including illegal possession of weapons.

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People yelled “Shame! and “Freedom!” after the verdict was given, independent news site MediaZone says. Others reportedly gathered outside singing and banging drums, next to masked security officers.

Who are the men?

The seven are part of a group of at least 10 in Penza and St Petersburg arrested and charged with membership of the so-called Set group. Human rights groups and lawyers say the group does not exist.

The first arrests took place in October 2017. The men were reportedly brutally tortured, with one receiving burn marks on his leg “left by repeated strikes from an electric stun gun”, the New Yorker magazine reported.

Though the men describe themselves as anarchists and anti-fascists, they deny being part of any organisation.

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The men share some left-wing views and some have played airsoft together in the past – a team shooting sport using small plastic pellets. Russian authorities said the airsoft games were training for attacks.

Before the sentences, a spokeswoman for Amnesty International called the terror charges “a figment of the Russian security services’ imagination that was fabricated in an attempt to silence these activists”.

All seven men convicted in Penza can appeal against their convictions, the judge reportedly said.

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