Edward Limonov in court
Last Friday, June 7th, the Russian Supreme Court, in a closed hearing, ruled to move the pending trial of former eXile columnist Edward Limonov from Moscow to Saratov. The date of the trial has not been set, and is not expected to begin for at least another two to three months.
The trial's venue has been in dispute for several months now, having moved four times.
Limonov, one of Russia's most famous authors and head of the extremist National-Bolshevik Party, is facing charges of terrorism, possession of weapons and explosives, calling for the violent overthrow of the state and attempting to form an illegal militia, for which he faces a total of 20 years in prison. He has been held in remand in Moscow's Lefortovo Prison for over 14 months.
Saratov was proposed by the prosectution as the venue because an illegal purchase of machine guns, which the FSB blames on Limonov, took place there early last year.
At first, the FSB, which is conducting the investigation of Limonov, fought to have the trial to be held in a village in the distant Altai Republic, where he was arrested in April of last year during a raid by masked counter-intelligence operatives.
Sergei Belyak, Limonov's lawyer, fought to have the trial held in Moscow, in order allow for better access to witnesses and attorneys. In April of this year, it was announced that the trial would take place in Saratov. Belyak appealed the decision, as did the Saratov Oblast court, sending the trial venue back to Moscow.
An appeal by Vladimir Ustinov, the General Prosecutor of Russia, to the Supreme Court led to the decision last Friday to re-send Limonov's trial venue back to Saratov.
"It's clear why the FSB fought to move the trial outside of Moscow: they want to keep the trial away from the press and to control the outcome."
Belyak has said that he will no longer appeal this decision, although he is now fighting to keep the trial from being closed to the press and public, which the FSB is demanding.
"They claim that the trial must be closed to the public because it deals with terrorism, yet all of their terrorism charges come from articles published by Limonov in his newspaper Limonka," said Belyak. "Everyone can read the evidence, there's nothing to hide."
PEN International has written an open letter to Ustinov calling for Limonov's release pending trial, expressing concern about the conduct of the authorities and the political nature of the trial. Most of PEN's 97 clubs around the world, including PEN Russia, Israel, France and others, have joined in expressing support for Limonov. A group of publishers, writers and intellectuals in France, where Limonov holds dual citizenship, has also petitioned for his release.
Until last week, Belyak was barred from visiting Limonov for two months.
While in detention, Limonov has been actively writing. He has published one autobiography, My Political Biography and a novel, The Book of Water. Two more books are pending publication this summer, including one from Ad Marginum Press, whose publisher, Alexander Ivanov, is also the co-owner of Shakespeare Books in Moscow. In all, Limonov has written six books since his imprisonment.
[Author's Note: Limonov wrote me a letter from Lefortovo telling me that he had written a column for the eXile, under the Dr. Limonov name, for publication. However, the column was never received and is presumed to have been seized. In the future, we will begin publishing translated excerpts from Limonov's prison books. Limonov seems to be in good spirits all things considered. Belyak told me that Limonov was moved to a cell alone so that he could work more, but was recently moved back into a two-man cell.]