First Day of the Hunger Strike

I woke up very early on 30 July 2018. I guess it was 4 or at latest 4.30 a.m. Clocks and watches are not allowed in prison, and the TV is not working as the antenna has broken down. Me and Roman Manashirov went to bed late yesterday, at about 11:30 p.m., although the lockdown is at 10:00 when the lights are off. Of course, the lights in the cell are on around the clock because of the video surveillance, but they are less bright. 

We decided to play table games on the tenth day of our co-residence. I had the chess sent by Iuliia, a set of figures and a checked field. I value this chess because me and Grisha used to play this chess at home in our daily tournaments. Roma asked me to teach him to play this ancient game, but realised after ten minutes of my explanations how difficult it was, and suggested playing dominoes or checkers. I had never liked dominoes, but Roma asked to play, so I yawned and played one game up to 101 points. Then we got to the checkers. Manashirov turned out to be a good player, and we spent two days playing three sets enthusiastically. The equal playing skills made our checker battle exciting. It distracted me from my inner shivers. The thing was that I had been on a hunger strike since 30 July. I had sent numerous letters with my hunger strike statement to all the top-rank officials of Russia, state my claims at the hearing in the Basmannyi Court on 27 July, where the legality of the institution of criminal proceedings against me was disputed.

Of course, we did not expect to win as we were well aware of the peculiarities of the “Basmannyi justice”, which had turned into the talk of the town. We still laid some hope on the Moscow City Court and the Supreme Court where there were always minor chances of success. The session was first adjourned, then held as a video conference although I expected to attend it myself to see my older children. All I can do is to ask Iulia to bring the younger ones, Grisha and Matvei, to the court session in the Basmannyi Court on 8 August where my arrest will be extended. May be, I will get to kiss them in the court corridor or before the hearing in the court room.

So, I announced the hunger strike in my speech in court, and everyone heard it during the conference as the hearing was attended by the journalists from The Rupor Moskvy, The Novaya Gazeta, Dozhd, and PASMI.

Of course, I am terribly afraid of this action as such protest is not only lack of food, but also a great danger for my disease (diabetes). Moreover, it is a solitary cell with no amenities, TV, newspaper and communication with cell mates; these things are very important to remain sane. Besides, it is great responsibility because if you do not keep your word, your reputation will be ruined.

My heart has been sore for a third day in a row because of this hard decision I have to take because of the numerous infringements on my rights in Lefortovo. My claims are simple and clear:

- Daily visits by the attorney (I have had no defender for two weeks);

- Registration for the election (I have been denied the right to a power of attorney);

- Selection of the pre-trial restriction;

- Investigation into the threats by Iarin and Tkachev. 

A hunger striker is an international self-damage and, of course, a bit childish act. Everyone tried to persuade me that refusal from food was far from the best way to get anything, everyone including attorneys, human rights defenders from the public monitoring commission, Fedotov form the Council for Human Rights, my wife, and most of my cell mates. The doctors in Lefortovo, who had seen a lot in that gloomy place, did their best to dissuade me. The key idea they tried to carry to me was that the authorities did not respond to hunger strikes no matter what you deed. Even if you die, no prison doctor will write in the medical opinion that you have died of a hunger striker. A heart attack, anything else but the hunger strike. 

I persuaded myself of the opposite and had arguments for the hunger strike. It was a way to remind as many citizens of Russia as possible of what the top-rank officials were doing to me. Moreover, those who are kept in Lefortovo based on one criminal episode are served additional charges in 90 % of the cases in order to beat them completely. On the very first day, the investigators openly told me in the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation in Tekhnicheskii Lane that more than ten episodes would be added, “If there is an order from above, a hundred will be added.” 

So it does make sense to draw some attention before new episodes are added. But the main thing is that Saturday was the deadline of registration for the election for Serpukhov District. The day before, the investigator demonstrated the permit for the power of attorney I needed to be registered for the election in the Basmannyi Court, but he did not give it to me and only allowed to take a picture of that. 

Valerii Borshchev, a famous human rights defender and member of several largest organisations defending human rights in Russia, openly associated my criminal case with the election,

“The method of arrests before the election is well known, practised and used by the government to get rid of an unwanted man under any pretext. I think, when it comes to Shestun, the law enforcement authorities tried to find any catch. This case seems suspicious and fabricated. In fact, it results from destruction of the self-governance.”

Like many others, Russian politician Gennadii Gudkov was greatly surprised with my arrest, 

“I like Aleksandr Shestun, and I believe that he was absolutely right in his activity, but I understand it perfectly well that he has just overestimated his capabilities, and the system took revenge on him in an absolutely unlawful and abusive manner. Nevertheless, it has done what it does to hundreds and thousands of other people who are a part of the system and try to opposite it. The point is that Aleksandr Shestun was in the governmental team, United Russia’s flesh and blood.” We have entered the new stage of repression, which is so pointless, stupid and cruel that it is widely condemned. But the government turns a blind eye to this condemnation.

I am thinking about the latest events a lot, and when I see how much my children, my wife, my mother and my brother suffer, I keep concluding that I should not have made them face such challenges. How could I have risked that much? I explain it to myself that a hunger strike is also for convenience. In fact, this act could be necessary to stop my family from suffering. I saw Iulia weeping aloud and asking to refuse from the hunger strike. When I asked her why, she said, “I feel sorry about you.”

Fourth Day of the Hunger Strike

Today is the fourth day of the hunger strike, and some conclusions can be made. Hunger is quite bearable although it is very hard during the first days. They say I will be less hungry later, starting from the sixth day. But by 10 August when my arrest will be extended by the Basmannyi Court in my presence, nobody will doubt judging by my looks that I am not pretending and eating secretly. 

The senior executives of the second detention centre left me in cell 31 with Manashirov, which is both good and bad. A pro is that there is someone to talk to, to play checkers with because I cannot keep writing complaints around the clock. It is scary to be in the cell alone when you are on a hunger strike: what if you feel bad? Nobody will call a warden or a doctor there. 

A con is that you are in the room of 7.8 square meters filled with Roman’s food. Whether you want it or nor, you keep staring at food. Probably, some people will not believe that I am on an absolute hunger strike. To be honest, I am not absolutely sure myself that I will manage to go through this ordeal. Nevertheless, I have only been drinking water, with no food, for four days, and now I am standing my ground. 

I used to be interested in fasting, but I never had enough time and will to try. Now it is only fair since there is nothing to do here. I cannot exercise, which is a necessary condition of fasting: no physical strain. During the walks and in the cell, I do not do push-ups and do not use water bottles as dumb bells. Instead, I sit and read Manashirov’s newspapers and walk around the walking room a little. I am patient enough not to eat a crumble. The only thing I am afraid of is that my body will fail.

Several days ago, I put the photo onto the table and keep looking at me beloved kids, Iulia and mother around the clock. Even the cell changed and filled with the spirit of the people I loved most on this planet. I caught myself thinking that I had wondered every year, “If I am imprisoned or killed, will Grisha and Matvei remember me?” And I replied to myself, “Grisha definitely will as he has already grown up.” That thought was stuck in my head, and when I look at those wonderful photos, I think that I might not see my mother anymore, and Matvei will forget me even if Iulia keeps reminding about me. 

I have lost six kilos, from 93 down to 87, during the hunger strike, my face has got much thinner, and I have terrible red spots around my nose, so I am afraid to scare my younger children at the hearing in the Basmannyi Court held to extend my arrest. 

I was finally visited by Eva Merkacheva and Evgenii Enikeev, members of the public monitoring commission, today. As ill luck would have it, they did not come when I just went on a hunger strike (and it was very hard during first three days, especially on the second and the third day). A visit by any person being sympathetic with you in prison is joy, and it is real happiness in Lefortovo. I was visited by the supervisory prosecutor yesterday, and I felt relieved after I had talked even to him. He recommended me several practical things, and I was surely grateful to him.

Also, Eva and other members of the public monitoring commission tell my family the news after the visit, which is an extra bonus, as letters take at least two weeks, and telegrams are delivered in five or six days, so the information in there is out of date. My main hope after the meeting with Eva is the publication in the Moskovskii Komsomolets.

Fifth Day of the Hunger Strike

Today is the fifth day since I refused from food, and I do want to eat less. The hardest day for a person on a hunger strike is the second, the third and the fourth days; then the body starts getting used, withdrawal symptoms are not that strong. Yet, it is 8 a.m. Now, and my cell mate Roman sitting a meter away from me is eating his breakfast and repeating how delicious it is, chewing and smacking so loudly that I remember Iulia's remarks about polite manners at the table. 

Manashirov has been trying to talking me into termination of the hunger strike all these days. He has been listed many arguments and giving me food, so I have even accused him of “working me out in the cell”, i.e. work by the order of the Federal Penitentiary Service and the Federal Security Service. Yesterday Roman even offered me a million roubles if I ate. Anyway, I think it would be even harder to be alone. 

Yesterday was full of events. In addition to writing lots of complaints and some memoirs, I had three meetings. I have already mentioned a visit by Eva. I was also taken to the head of Lefortovo in his office. Aleksei Romashin, a smiling colonel of about 50, was in a good mood, tried talking to me in a friendly manner for a long time, but I was in no mood for a long discussion. Moreover, the conditioner was on in his huge office, and I am freezing all the time because of the hunger strike, although it is +30 outside. I tried to leave several times, but he kept talking and retaining me. Of course, his main purpose was to talk me out of my protest as the public stir was quite considerable: more than 40 articles in the federal mass media.

Aleksei Alekseevich promised that additional food products would be admitted so that I could be on a diet necessary for my diabetes, attorneys would visit me more often, and I would be allowed to pass any medical examination in civil hospitals, but I still stood up to demonstrate that our dialogue was over. I was followed back to the cell by the especially tender security guard as visits to the boss’s office were a rare thing. For instance, oligarch Manashirov has never been there in three years. I was so weak that I fell onto my bed. Any walk around echoing stairs and ominous long corridors exhausts me since my body has been weakened by the hunger strike. 

Of course, the words about Manashirov “working me out” were a joke because he had not ratted out a single person in three years although the Federal Security Service suggested that he should be released immediately if he gave testimony against the generals from the law enforcement authorities. However, Roman could not defame them to stop suffering he would not wish on anyone. As of the other issues, our opinions often differ, which I find more interesting for discussion and search of the truth. In particular, Manashirov condemns my video address to the President containing the record of our conversation with Tkachev, and says that I should not record anyone as it is indecent. 

Many people, including my friends, have condemned the publication of the record online. Most of them are top-rank officials. But more than 90 % of the citizens who have left their comments think that I have done the right thing, and our Russia can only be saved this way. My video address has been watched by 3.5 million people and commented by thousands of people whereas there has been only a dozen of comments condemning me. Most people wholeheartedly approved of my actions.




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