X = Extremism? Moscow Student Goes From Algebra Class To Interrogation

MOSCOW -- On September 19, 17-year-old Kamilla Yarycheva was pulled out of algebra class and summoned to the school director's office.

According to a post she wrote on Facebook later that day, a man was waiting for her there in worn jeans, a tucked-in T-shirt, and a pouch attached to his belt that was "the size of a pistol."

Yarycheva writes that she immediately recognized the man as an agent of the Interior Ministry's Antiextremism Center, or Center E.

"The [Aleksei] Navalny campaign taught us well how to recognize them," she said in reference to training offered by supporters of the jailed opposition politician and barred presidential candidate.

"Don't be afraid," the presumed agent told her ominously. "I'm not going to frighten you. We'll just have a talk."

The agent presented Yarycheva with a thick folder -- "the size of both volumes of War And Peace" -- filled with screenshots from videos taken at an unsanctioned demonstration in Moscow on September 9 against the government's controversial proposal to raise retirement ages.

"On the screenshots, the faces of the ones they were searching for had been circled in red," Yarycheva wrote. "There was a photo of me. I couldn't lie. 'Yes, that's me.'"

Yarycheva's mother, Maria Starostina, tells RFE/RL the experience was terrifying for her daughter.

"Kamilla telephoned me," Starostina says. "Her teeth were chattering from fear. She told me that during the talk, the agent asked for her passport data. Kamilla didn't remember it, so she left the room to get her passport. My daughter was running around the school trying to find a teacher who would defend and support her. She didn't find one and had to return to the office."

She calls it a "horrible" ordeal for a 15-year-old. "Running around in shock like a little animal, looking for one person she could trust," Starostina says. "I burst out crying when I imagined it."

When Yarycheva refused to name anyone in the agent's photos or to answer any other questions, citing Article 51 of the Russian Constitution against self-incrimination, the agent threatened to summon her to Petrovka 38, a Moscow police station that earned a notorious reputation during the Soviet era.

"The agent also advised Kamilla to talk with another girl who had already been to Petrovka," Starostina says. "That girl -- whose parents have asked me not to give her name or details of what happened to her -- was threatened with prosecution under extremism charges and a prison term for her participation in the demonstration."

Starostina's lawyer informed the Antiextremism Center that Yarucheva would not communicate with them further without an official summons.

'I'll See You In Three Years'

These cases are among many across the country in which antiextremism police have monitored protests or other political actions and reportedly sought to intimidate students and youths who participated in them.

In Vladimir in June, three students were detained for distributing leaflets in support of Navalny.

"They took us to a police station and [began to question us]," said Yaroslav Lomov, one of the detainees, in an interview with RFE/RL at the time. "Then they took us to separate rooms. Danil and Ivan refused to incriminate themselves. I was talking with an officer who introduced himself as Igor and who suggested we address each other using the familiar pronoun 'ty.'"

They filed a complaint alleging that the Antiextremism Center agent who detained them threatened to kidnap and sexually abuse them.

"He said: 'You are just 15. We'll see each other again in three years. They'll take you into a cell and pull down your pants and turn your guts inside out,'" Lomov recalled. "The whole time he was laughing and swearing.... He wrote down my address and said someone would drop by."

'Illegal Contact'

Starostina doesn't blame Yarycheva's school for what happened to her daughter.

"The school tries to protect the students as much as it can," she says. "After the interrogation, the school psychologist told the agent that none of their students would do anything illegal and none was trying to undermine the foundations of the state. In many cities in Russia, we are hearing reports like the incident that happened to my daughter. The police have long demanded that teachers conduct 'political work' with their students. School administrations have to explain to the police why opposition-minded students are studying within their walls."

Andrei Kozlov, the director of Moscow School No. 1567 where Yarycheva studies and in whose office the interrogation took place, claimed to have no knowledge of the incident and declined RFE/RL's requests to comment on it.

"I won't discuss this topic with you," he said. "I have read a little bit of what is on the Internet and I did not see anything that violates the law."

Aleksei Glukhov, a lawyer with the Agora human rights group, disagreed. "I see a violation of the law in the fact that the director of the school created the circumstances for the unannounced, forced communication of a student with the police," he tells RFE/RL.

"The director was obligated to inform the student's parents that he had been contacted by the police. The director or a representative of the school administration should have asked Kamilla if she agreed to speak with the police, because the school is responsible for protecting the rights of its students. And the director was obligated to tell the agent of Center E that he had to officially summon the student and inform her parents. No one has the right to force a student to speak with the police or force the school to provide a venue for such conversations."

'Why Should I Leave?'

Ahead of the March presidential election, Navalny supporter Pyotr Istomin in Stavropol was repeatedly detained and interrogated. He said he was beaten by police on one occasion.

He was eventually expelled from his university on the instigation of the Antiextremism Center. In August, Istomin requested asylum in Finland.

Sixty-five-year-old former KGB officer Vladimir Putin won a fourth term in March, all but ensuring his reign atop Russian politics extends well into a third decade. His grip on society has tightened with time, in part through authorities' weeding out of critical media, legislative and other obstacles to public protest, and jailings or other persecution of dissenters.

Yarycheva tells RFE/RL she doesn't want to emigrate. "Why should I leave my country because of a bunch of bandits?" she says. "I was born here. I grew up here. I am studying Russian literature and art."

"Our country is run by a horrific system that is consuming everyone," she adds, "unless we stand up for our right to human dignity."

For Yarycheva's mother, that means, first of all, resisting what is happening in Russia's schools. "They want to turn our schools into organs of control," she tells RFE/RL. "And that is what they are doing -- while we just sit around and watch them do it."

Written by Robert Coalson based on reporting by Darina Shevchenko of RFE/RL's Russian Service