The Azov films - Police secretly redefine the law
Text by: 'Probingmind'
What would you think if you did something that appeared to be perfectly legal, only to find yourself, two years later, being raided, handcuffed, denied bail, denounced as a freak in your hometown newspaper, and threatened with five to twenty years in prison? What if, to your total shock, the reason for all this turns out to be that prosecutors had decided to aggressively reinterpret an existing law, one that lawyers had stated you would not be breaking? What would you think if there were dozens of cases like yours, and yet the authorities involved were making every possible effort to keep you and the public from finding out them and about their true nature?
This has, in fact, happened to 30 men we know of so far in the U.S. and to at least another 31 in two other countries, Spain and Canada. They may only be the tip of the iceberg. In a small minority of the known cases, police searches in homes disclosed that the men involved had also committed real criminal activities involving children or conventionally defined pornography and would normally be imprisoned - notwithstanding, in this case, the 'fruit of the poisoned tree' doctrine (the doctrine that criminal acts disclosed through an invalid search cannot be prosecuted). Most of the men, though, had done nothing normally recognized as illegal; they had simply blundered into an area where certain authorities decided to change, without warning, the working criteria for defining a legal offense.
The law that was being tampered with was Title 18 U.S.C. § 2256(2), the U.S. statute distinguishing permissible nude depictions of children - that is naturist or nudist material, including family photographs - from illegal erotic material. This law specifically outlaws content recognized as erotic, namely "(a) actual or simulated sexual intercourse ... (various sex acts are detailed), (b ) bestiality, (c ) masturbation, (d) sadistic or masochistic abuse, or (e) lascivious exhibition of the genitals or pubic area of any person." 'Lascivious exhibition' has long been considered to imply some perceptible erotic content - erotic posing, undue focus on the genitals, wearing of unusually tight or sexy-looking clothing (yes, photos of clothed children can be considered pornographic), etc. Some optional criteria for evaluating 'lascivious exhibition,' a set of non-binding suggestions called the 'Dost test,' have been in play in U.S. courts for several years (see wikipedia), and most legal authorities who have looked into the matter believed that naturist outdoor and indoor sporting scenes, beach scenes, and so on, constituted protected content under the US First Amendment. Several historic court cases involving naturist materials had reinforced this idea.
In this atmosphere of constitutional protection for non-erotic, 'nudity-only' content, a company based in Canada, called Azov Films, began the internet marketing of naturist videos produced in Germany, the Ukraine and Romania. These videos featured boys aged around 8-16, mostly involved in sports such as swimming, archery or wrestling. They included a mixture of clothed and naked scenes, carefully edited to exclude any content that could be interpreted as lascivious. The website, now defunct, included a page that laid out the legal considerations about such material in the US and Canada. You can verify that by viewing the stored capture of the site's legal webpage in the internet archive (web.archive.org).
I am one of many people who always found the whole enterprise dodgy, and I wouldn't be surprised if thoughts like that cross your mind when you read about it. Nonetheless, Azov seemed to pass the legality test clearly, and there were thousands of customers in 94 countries worldwide. They ordered the DVDs with brightly colored packages and received them in the mails. The customs officers of all 93 nations outside of Canada apparently took no interest in them. Little did the US customers know that their U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS), a police organization with jurisdiction over materials sent in the mails, had decided to cinch up the definition of lascivious exhibition so that they could prosecute these purchasers. A deal was made with Canadian authorities, under the auspices of Interpol, and the website's home base in Toronto was secretly raided in May 2011. The business's registered owners, Sandra Waslow and Brian Way, disappeared from public view.
No news reports appeared about the raid, except in a few Russian-language local news services near Simferopol, Crimean Peninsula, Ukraine, where one of the naturist movie-makers was arrested. The Ukrainian reporters revealed that the Canadian website had been raided, the naturist films had been reclassified as pornographic, Waslow had been arrested, and Way had become a fugitive. Toronto police, the main agents involved in the raid, refused to comment on the matter. To this day, they have never admitted to the raid, and the current circumstances of Waslow and Way are unknown. The raid, however, has been acknowledged in some USPIS legal documents in the U.S.
For a year after the Ukrainian reports appeared, there was widespread skepticism in interested circles online about their accuracy, but then, suddenly, the reports were dramatically shown to be correct. Arrests of Azov customers began in the U.S., accompanied by affidavits stating that the naturist DVDs contained 'sexually explicit activity.' This activity, said the affidavits, consisted of boys 'displaying their genitals to the camera,' and 'revealing their anuses.' It turned out that the former charge was used whenever subjects happened to face towards the camera while being filmed. The scenes mentioned were not close-ups, but rather whole-body shots taken during various sporting activities. In some cases, the subjects were filmed taking a post-sporting shower or basking in the Russian sauna. The 'revealing the anus' phrasing was used any time the cleft of the buttocks could be seen, especially if the subject happened to bend during play. According to defense lawyers, however, anuses per se were never discernible in the DVDs. In legal adult pornography, actually displaying the anus requires highly lascivious poses that are never seen in sporting activities.
The management of information in the Azov arrests was amazing. The name Azov Films was never mentioned. Press were told that secrecy around the unnamed 'international company' providing the videos was to prevent interference with ongoing investigations, but this press-line doesn't hold water. Men had paid for the DVDs and related downloadable content with their credit cards. They had used email addresses that usually included their names. They were all on the hook for purchasing the materials - all the records had been seized in the raids on Azov. Some of the arrestees had long ago thrown out or destroyed the DVDs, but they were charged with the same offense as those who retained them, namely 'receipt of child pornography.' The investigation didn't require secrecy. It seems that, in reality, the hiding of the name Azov Films was mostly intended to conceal the nature of the content being prosecuted. This strategy allowed arrestees to be treated in the press not as people who had believed they were living within the law, but rather as typical collectors of illegal child pornography. Also, a bold attempt was being made to broaden the definition of child pornography to include 'nudity only' materials, and this attempt was being made with as much stealth as possible. The application of the First Amendment was being reshaped, not by legislation, but by a law enforcement propaganda push. Publicly available statistics showed that the workload of the pornography branch of USPIS had been declining drastically over the previous ten years, and now, the agents were making a radical attempt to corral some new high-profile work by turning non-porn into porn. Along with other impatient law enforcement activists anxious to drive legislation to where it had never gone before, they composed and publicized the right verbiage to turn perceived naturism into perceived pornography.
And who was to stop them? There is not much sympathy for men who order DVDs dedicated to showing naked boys in sporting activities. Internet comments never fail to include the usual calls for Bubba to rape such men for decades in prison - surely the most popular fantasy in modern American culture. I take another view. I think that insofar as these DVD orders represent a sexual attraction to the boys shown, the attempt by most of the men to do only what was strictly legal is laudable. The average age of the customers was in the mid-50s, and many were significantly older. As I said to one person in correspondence, "if you've lived through three or more decades of sexual attraction to kids and the only thing you've done about it is to order some apparently legal nudist DVDs, you damn well deserve better than to be treated like a rapist or a child pornographer." But the US Postal Inspection Service and its colleagues disagree with this, and conceal their disagreement under a blitz of propaganda about 'sexually explicit activity.'
'What about the kids involved in the videos?' we must ask. In this case, we have unusually reliable information about their circumstances and welfare. The makers of the naturist videos in Romania and the Ukraine, respectively Markus Roth and Igor Rusanov, were both prosecuted under local laws that deem any filmed depiction of child nudity to be pornographic. This resulted in considerable press coverage - none of it in English. Rusanov, it was revealed, had also made two adult porn films, which were legal in the U.S. but illegal in the Ukraine, where all pornography is banned. Roth received a very light sentence and state prosecutor Dan Budusan (google both names; use google translate on the Romanian) commended him for ensuring that the children in the videos were not harmed. All the Romanian kids were interviewed by police, along with their parents, and no complaints emerged. Similarly, in the Ukraine, newpaper reporters and online vigilantes expressed disbelief and outrage that no complaints of sexual abuse or other distress were to be had from the subjects of the films or their parents. Ultimately, though, they were forced to live with the lack of complaints. A momentary press allegation that an Australian visiting Rusanov had once sexually touched a boy fizzled without being substantiated.
Early in the clandestine series of arrests, online activists in the conscientiously non-abusing minor-attracted community pulled out the hidden and disparate information about the arrests and published it in their websites. All writers in the mainstream press who had written articles about individual Azov arrests were contacted and told about the interconnected arrests and the legal history of the material involved. Uniformly, they ignored the information. Finally, a single reporter, Matthew Crane of the Dubois County Free Press, responded to the information by publishing an overview of the arrest series. His article (Child porn arrest part of expansive investigation into Canadian film company, www.duboiscountyfreepress.com) appeared on Dec. 3, 2012. It has not inspired any of his press colleagues to be equally candid.
As if the authorities had realized that this activity meant that their first-line press snow-job was in danger of being seen through, and a reporter might someday call their bluff, they sharpened their tone. They began to release mysterious allegations that the boys in the videos had been sexually abused. A Nov. 18, 2012 article by Levi Pulkkinen in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer stated that "In charging documents, investigators noted the graphic nature of the pornography acquired by (arrestee David) Engle from the website. Most showed nude, prepubescent boys being sexually assaulted." This outright falsehood was parroted on Nov. 20 in identical words by Phil Vinter in a UK national paper, the Daily Mail. A spate of Azov arrests announced in Spain in early December included statements such as "Alicante Police have ensured that most of the children, aged between 11 and 16 years, were subjected to serious sexual abuse before and after recordings, for the money they charged, and have already been identified and rescued in their respective countries." A Canadian report about the Spanish arrests similarly stated "The network (of filmmakers) abused and filmed young children in Ukraine, Germany and Romania." If these allegations of abuse were true, we would be as appalled as anyone; but they are not. Contrast the statement of Dan Budusan, Romanian state prosecutor from the state legal agency DIICOT (Bureau for the Investigation of Crimes due to Organized Crime and Terrorism): "The juveniles behaved very relaxed in the movies; I consider it good that they did. Wrestling, playing, and then anointing with oil, but the interesting thing is that children were always laughing." Explicit reports in the Ukrainian and Romanian press, based on interviews of the film subjects and their parents, completely rule out the allegations made by the Spanish authorities. Just as, however, 'in outer space, no one can hear you scream,' in child pornography investigations, no one can prove that the police are lying. The press and the public don't have access to the materials in question - if they did, they would be prosecuted. And if anyone showed any interest, wouldn't he or she be siding with horrible, disgusting pedophiles? Therefore, the world simply gives the police a blank wall on which they can paint any florid graffiti they wish.
Currently, USPIS and federal prosecutors' hidden propaganda war with those trying to expose the Azov caper carries on apace, with more false and distorted statements being produced in nearly every press release. “These boys were for the most part naked and the filming was for the most part on their genitals," said Assistant United States Attorney Paul Jones in the press release about otherwise unoffending music teacher Jerry Lanier in Atlanta, Georgia. "The majority of the films featured young boys and were marketed as 'naturist films," U.S. Attorney Kenyen Brown said in a news release about the case of otherwise legally unblemished deacon Robert Nouwen in Mobile, Alabama. “The videos were reviewed and contained the visual depiction of minor boys engaged in lascivious exhibition of the genitals." In fact, details of the films given in the official affidavits and criminal complaints invariably contradict these statements - despite relentless occurrence of phrases like 'displaying their genitals to the camera,' the contents of the films are obviously banal. Here's a description of one video that is cited in numerous cases - the description comes from the official affidavit of New Jersey arrestee Nicholas Sysock (www.justice.gov):
"Water Wiggles: Going commando. Boy Fights XIII. The movie begins with two prepubescent boys dressed in white underwear entering an inflatable pool containing a small amount of water. The pool is located indoors. The boys begin to wrestle and pull each other's underwear off, so that they are completely naked. They continue to wrestle each other in the inflatable pool, and play with various objects including an inflatable float and a plastic ball. The boys towel off and then proceed to empty the water from the pool and dry the pool. Throughout these segments, the boys are completely naked and their genitals are displayed to the camera. At the end of the movie, the two prepubescent boys are standing naked facing the camera. The English subtitles indicate that the interviewer asks the boys their names and ages. The boys indicate that their ages are 13 years old and almost 13 years old."
Even with this being one of the minority of videos that shows body contact, there is still no evidence of what conventionally, in U.S. law, would be considered erotic content. As defense lawyers Mark Spix and Howard Mancel said in a Motion to Suppress connected to the arrest of Atlanta resident Joseph Wilson:
“A simple review of the images would show they are neither provocative or sexual. They are naturalist videos and photos which "fall short of the legal definition of child pornography and are squarely within the protection of the First Amendment" see: United States v. McKelvey, 203 F.3d 66, 69 n.3 (1st Cir. 2000). None of the alleged website descriptions of the movies and DVD of still pictures included in paragraphs 17 through 32 of the affidavit satisfy any of the indicators identified in Dost. None mention genitalia whatsoever or whether genitalia are focused on in the film or picture. None of the settings described (for example, the beach, camping, skateboarding, swimming, picnicking, playing football, playing in mud, fishing, rafting, playing in sand) are sexually suggestive. Several times in the website descriptions, it is made clear that the movies are filmed in naturist (nudist) environments. None of the website descriptions indicate that the boys are depicted in unnatural poses. None include descriptions of sexually suggestive clothing or descriptions of expressions or posture even remotely related to sexual activity. Nor do any of the website descriptions contained in the affidavit suggest that the images are intended or designed to elicit a sexual response from the viewer. US (Postal Inspector Jeff) Adkins makes a speculative statement that the "filmmaker is purposely including their naked genitals and buttocks throughout the movie..." (Adkins Warrant 34), but nudity alone does not demonstrate an intent by the filmmaker to elicit a sexual response unless the minor is engaged in sexually explicit conduct. Even if the filmmaker's purpose was voyeurism, this does not meet the benchmark for eliciting a sexual response. United States v. Steen, 634 F.3d 822, 827-828 (5th Cir. 2011).”
Someday, after many more men who never formed an intention to commit a crime are arrested and have their careers and reputations destroyed forever, you will read a news report, a big press release. 'International child pornography ring broken up,' it will say. 'Many children rescued,' it will assure you. You, the reader of the present article, will be among the few who knew what was really going on. The curious and conspiratorial thing about the Azov caper is not so much that the authorities push their luck, that they adopt a militant press line and that they most likely use professional propagandists ('spin doctors') to help adjust it and make it more extreme over time. The really spooky aspect is the almost robotic response of the press. It's as if they have a pre-set format or agenda that prevents attention to this story. They parrot press releases, gather some local color, check no police assertions, and are unmoved when told their story about one person ties into the stories of dozens, hundreds or thousands more people. Meanwhile, little internet boards, regarded by most people as the home of loonies and crazies, are the only place where well documented factual material is being assembled and placed in context. Mass society is a careening machine of propaganda, emotion and hatred, and the allegedly mad places of the internet are all that's left of our once predominant values of open mindedness, kindness, tolerance, and the chance for our neighbor to get a fair hearing.
I don't know what the chances are of any of the Azov customers ever having his lack of criminal intent recognized by a court, let alone by a newspaper, but I thank you all at this website for giving their case a fair hearing, and thus taking part in an awesomely profound conspiracy - the conspiracy of human decency.
source: Article 'The Azov Films secret mass arrest conspiracy in the USA - when police secretly redefine law' by 'Probingmind'; www.godlikeproductions.com/forum1/message2121464/pg1; Godlike Productions; Also published in Nambla Updates; Vol. 8, No. 2; July 2013; First publication: 27 January 2013