"We still argue about who got the other into this."

Father and son political activists discuss their family’s life in Kaliningrad

Team 29 special project "Enforcement of Loyalty"
In 2019, Kaliningrad resident Ivan Luzin became the first Russian convicted of involving minors in a protest. Ivan was only 18 years old at the time. At first, many thought that it was his father (also called Ivan, a well-known activist in the city) who was arrested. There are four sons in the Luzin family. The youngest, Philip, was born not long ago. Over the past couple of years, this large family (who occasionally attend peaceful one-person protests) face fines, searches and surveillance from law enforcement agencies.
The first police incident
Ivan Sr. and his son are very similar. Both are tall, thin, intelligent, with low voices and timid smiles. Both of them can be spotted in the centre of Kaliningrad - with posters denouncing torture and constitutional amendments, or those defending political prisoners and residents of Belarus or Khabarovsk. Despite this, the father and son adhere to different political views and are involved in different political organisations. Luzin Sr. now works at Alexey Navalny’s Kaliningrad headquarters, while Luzin Jr. is a member of the Libertarian Party. 

“We still argue over who got the other into this. I say that he got me into it, he says the opposite. I avoided rallies as much as I could,” says Luzin Sr.  His protest story began at an anti-corruption march alongside other Navalny supporters on June 12th 2017, which his two sons, Ivan Jr. and 14-year-old Veniamin, attended.

“The children were going to the march, I just went to look after them. We were told that people with paraphernalia were being arrested, so I took Veniamin’s Russian flag off him. For some reason, the police took me and Ivan to their van. Then they let me go, but not Ivan. This was the first time we’d experienced this. We had no idea where to find him. I rolled up the flag and began hassling the police to find out where he was. Then they took me away for the second time. Ivan was still a minor and somehow was let off the hook. I was fined 10 thousand rubles. That was my and only first fine. I’m usually a very cautious and law-abiding citizen,” says Ivan Sr. 

"It's just absurd."
On February 7th 2019, Ivan Luzin Jr. was arrested during an anti-torture protest. He and his friends Nastya and Alina only managed to take a couple of pictures in the city’s central square. Each of the girls held posters with the names of Alexander Orshulevich (the leader of the monarchist movement ‘Baltic Vanguard of the Russian Resistance’ who was sentenced to eight years in prison) and Viktor Filinkov (a defendant in the ‘Network’ case, involving an alleged terrorist group banned in Russia). Both claim their testimony was obtained through torture. Ivan and his friends explained that the motivation behind their protest was to draw attention to the violence perpetrated by security forces in Russia.

All three were immediately taken to the police station. By the evening, Ivan was still not allowed to leave.

“I sat there and waited for him to be allowed to go home, as usual. It's not too bad if you have someone to talk to. Then Ivan Jr. comes out, accompanied by several officers, who say he will be staying overnight. They say what he’d been charged with. It was a real surprise,” says Ivan Sr. 

The 18-year-old was accused of holding an unapproved protest (Part 1, Article 20.2 of the Administrative Code) and involving minors in a protest (Part 1.1 of the same article). Both girls were under 18 at the time, one of them just a year younger than Ivan Jr.

"What did I do? I went to buy a blanket and some food at the nearest supermarket. But when I got back, I was no longer allowed to see him. They said that he was asleep,” recalls Ivan Sr.
"I really was asleep. What else was there to do?" adds Luzin Jr.

Court proceedings began at the end of March. Ivan Jr. did not plead guilty and said that he had only photographed his acquaintances holding posters. The defence insisted that the protest itself did not take place, and the charges were fabricated.

Ivan Jr. recalls these events: “I see now that I made mistakes during the process. It was just absurd. But if I hadn’t admitted to any of it, then it would be completely absurd. It was quite stressful. At some points, I gave fairly contradictory testimonies. It wasn’t a great defence. It is unlikely that this would have made any difference, but I like to think that I did everything I could.”

Alina, who was also at the protest, was a witness at the trial. She said that the police officers who had arrested them did not introduce themselves, nor did they explain where they were being taken or what exactly they were accused of. She also noted that she was not read her rights and was not allowed to contact a lawyer. Instead, she was only permitted to call her parents. The defence insisted on summoning the police officers who had arrested the teenagers. But the judge said that violations during the detention of minors were a matter for another case. In the end, there was no “other case.”

The court found Ivan Jr. guilty on both counts and fined him 20 thousand rubles for holding an unauthorised action and a further 30 thousand rubles for involving minors. Members of the Libertarian Party raised money to help pay the fines. The defence tried, unsuccessfully, to challenge the verdict.

Valeria Vetoshkina
Why were there no laws relating to the involvement of minors in political activity before 2018? Team 29’s lawyer Valeria Vetoshkina explains

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Why were there no laws relating to the involvement of minors in political activity before 2018?
In the bill’s accompanying note, an incredibly vague phrase is used as a justification- the bill aims to prevent minors from participating in unauthorised protests, rallies, demonstrations, processions, and picketing ‘to prevent any harm to their life, health and development.’ I don’t think there is any reasonable basis for introducing this article. Plus, minors can participate in public events. This is not prohibited at all. The background to this is also important: in 2017, many schoolchildren took part in the ‘He is not Dimon to you’ anti-corruption protests. Perhaps the introduction of these legislative changes is in relation to these demonstrations. Or it’s related to us living in the Internet age, where it is hard to control young people. 

Does this article’s existence mean that anyone who organises a protest or rally can face legal action if a teenager attends? 

No, it doesn't. First, involvement is always proactive. Paragraph 42 of the Resolution of the Plenum of the Supreme Court (“On the judicial practice of applying legislation regulating the criminal responsibility and punishment of minors") explains that minors’ involvement in a crime or antisocial actions should be considered the actions of an adult. 

An adult’s actions can be expressed in the form of promises, deception and threats, or in the form of an offer to commit a crime or antisocial actions, inciting feelings of envy or revenge. In general, I think that this logic can be extended to involving minors in protests (the courts also now do this). It is not considered an offence if a minor attends a protest, and the organiser does not take any action against this. 

Secondly, there are different methods of "involvement." For example, correspondence on social media or promises of monetary reward.   

75 million rubles and a pink vibrator
In September 2019, searches were carried out across the country in connection with the Anti-Corruption Foundation (ACF). The organisation was accused of “laundering” 1 billion rubles (but only 75 million featured in the documentation). Searches were carried out at Navalny's headquarters and activists’ apartments. They also came to the Luzin family home. By that time, Ivan Jr. had long since left the ranks of Navalny's supporters, but this did not stop the security forces.

“We were stunned when we saw this was about 75 million from the ACF. You stand, looking at this decree thinking someone must have the wrong address,” says Ivan Sr. “It was a funny situation to be in. We live in a private house. Early one morning, some people rang the doorbell. There is no peephole, and you couldn’t make out what was on the notice. I decided to go down via the balcony to get around the house. While I was reading this notice, I started to panic, then another officer climbed onto the balcony and began to kick the balcony door down. It became clear that they were going to come in one way or another, so we just let them in. They initially tried to search, but then they found out that I was the wrong Ivan Luzin. I was quite concerned at the time: the boys had a bunch of board games, and I was afraid that they would be knocked on the floor.”
But the investigator picked up one of the boxes and saw that there were no stacks of rubles or secret documents inside. He closed it, gave it back to me, and I put them all in a pile. There was quite a lot of them. As far as I know, no board games were damaged during the search."
The house search lasted several hours. Several bank cards, a couple of mobile phones, and a pink vibrator (which Ivan Sr. had given to his wife Yulia) were the main findings. The sex toy inspired a different, not entirely healthy interest, among the police. They did not seize it, but photographed it, noted it down, then posted the photos in the anonymous "Comrade Major" Telegram group. A couple of weeks later, the picture was shown on NTV. The picture’s original poster clearly got their Ivan Luzins mixed up, having claimed that Ivan Jr. was the owner of the vibrator. 

Meanwhile, Yulia Luzina’s mother’s house was searched (Ivan was registered at his grandmother's apartment). Her phone was confiscated, and she was banned from contacting her relatives. 

“That was the most unpleasant part. We’re a close-knit group. We’ve been through a lot together, all in good spirits. But my grandmother was on her own, on the other side of the city. It was really stressful for her. She didn't understand what was going on. Then, in the NTV report, I saw a blurred-out picture of this dildo. She didn't even understand what it was but had come to the conclusion that there had been some kind of orgy,” recalls Ivan Sr. 

The Luzin family tried to complain about the police’s conduct to the Ministry of Internal Affairs but never received a proper response. The items which were seized during the searches were never returned. 

Rocks through glass
At 3 am on September 11th, 2020, Ivan Sr. awoke to a thudding sound. Someone had thrown two rocks through one of their windows. Nobody was hurt, but the Luzins were frightened and called the police. CCTV recordings were of no help, and there were no witnesses, so the case didn’t go anywhere.

“We made a few attempts to get someone to investigate. We called the police. But the person who was supposedly assigned this case soon stopped picking up the phone,” says Ivan Sr.

At the end of September, an official paper came from the regional Department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, which stated that a decision was made not to conduct a full investigation based on the audit results.
Under suspicion
Ivan Jr. does not think that these searches, trials and detentions have changed or complicated his life. He plays an active role in the work of the Libertarian Party while also studying to become an architect. He claims that he hasn’t noticed any increased attention from the school’s management because of his political activity.

Ivan Sr. notes that his son is clearly under suspicion. For example, he recently flew to a Libertarian party convention and was met at the airport by police officers and military enlistment office representatives. 

“When I was arriving, I saw, in addition to an employee of the military enlistment office. I don't know who he is, but he always shows up at rallies. He tried to grab my elbow, but I just walked away from him. After I’d flown back, I left the airport and got on a bus to Kaliningrad. About 30 seconds later, a police officer got on and handed me a summons for attending one-person protests, for which some of our guys are currently being tried. This was when Navalny was poisoned. My case is probably in court right now. I don't even know,” says Ivan Jr. 

“Ivan has some unresolved business with the military enlistment office. Maybe I’m underestimating them, but I don’t think that they catch every conscript who has slipped up at the airport or at the election commission where he works. How could they know if you have a job for one week?" adds Luzin Sr. 

The father and son believe that this "does not really interfere with our lives, although it is quite unpleasant." They continue to openly express their civil position, repeatedly going out to hold individual protests in the city.

“I think about it like this: I am not protesting for the sake of it. It’s out of solidarity. I feel this sense of injustice and want to tell, for example, a person who has been wrongly detained that they are not alone,” explains Ivan Jr.
According to Ivan Sr., he compares his one-person protests with the work of journalists. Public action highlights problems and, in turn, spreads awareness.

“I don’t know what it’s like for other people, but I’m quite introverted. Standing up and unfurling a poster is quite stressful for me,” says Ivan Sr.  “I need to get over this somehow. Plus, you might not see any immediate results. You don’t ‘win’ directly. Navalny was released for treatment, but this was not caused by you standing somewhere holding a poster. That just led to you being arrested. But I do it to raise awareness so as many people as possible can learn about these problems. The amendments to the constitution, for example, are nothing like how they’re described on TV.”

Both Navalny's headquarters (where Luzin Sr. works) and the Libertarian Party (of which Luzin Jr. is a member) will soon have to prepare for election campaigns. The pressure on political activists in the Kaliningrad region will almost certainly intensify. But the father and son are trying not to think about it just yet.