News of the Day: 1 March 2021

RFE/RL: Two UN human rights experts have called for an international investigation into the poisoning of Kremlin critic Aleksei Navalny, saying evidence points to the “very likely involvement” of Russian government officials. In a joint statement on March 1, Agnes Callamard, the UN’s top expert on extrajudicial, summary, and arbitrary executions, and Irene Khan, an expert on freedom of opinion and expression, demanded Navalny’s “immediate release” from prison. “Given the inadequate response of the domestic authorities, the use of prohibited chemical weapons, and the apparent pattern of attempted targeted killings, we believe that an international investigation should be carried out as a matter of urgency in order to establish the facts and clarify all the circumstances concerning Mr. Navalny’s poisoning,” they said.

RFE/RL: A journalist in Siberia whose critical articles often target local authorities says she has fled her city with her daughters amid fears for their safety. Natalya Zubkova, the chief editor of the Novosti Kiselyovska (News of Kiselyovsk) online newspaper, said in a statement on YouTube that an unknown man attacked her late on February 25 as she was walking her dog.

RFE/RL: The Moscow City Court has upheld an arrest warrant issued by a lower court last month for Leonid Volkov, a close associate of jailed opposition politician Aleksei Navalny. The warrant for Volkov, the head of the network of Navalny’s teams across Russia, was issued on February 10 at the request of the Investigative Committee. Volkov, who is currently based in Lithuania, is accused of calling on minors to take part in unsanctioned mass rallies in late January.

RFE/RL: Rights activists are questioning official reports that an inmate committed suicide after he was found dead in a prison in Russia’s Siberian region of Irkutsk. Relatives of Adygzhy Aimyr-Ool, an ethnic Tuvinian, told RFE/RL on February 28 that they had found out about the death from other inmates who had managed to get word to them. Vladimir Osechkin, the coordinator of the human rights group, told RFE/RL that Aimyr-Ool was found dead on February 26 during an evening roll call.

RFE/RL: Within four months of falling violently ill on a flight to Moscow from Siberia in August, Russian opposition figure Aleksei Navalny had duped one of his alleged poisoners into confessing on a phone call and collaborated with investigative journalists on a report identifying the men suspected of using a nerve agent in a botched assassination attempt. Navalny is now serving a 2 1/2-year prison term outside Moscow, having been arrested the moment he arrived back in Russia in January. And the Russian authorities appear to be going after those who enabled Navalny, and journalists he worked with, to shine light on the murky operation behind the attack. On March 1, business daily Kommersant reported that a criminal investigation had been launched into a law enforcement officer accused of selling passenger data for the Moscow-bound flight on which Navalny was taken ill on August 20. Using such data, Navalny worked with the investigative group Bellingcat and Russian news site The Insider to piece together the movements of purported agents who trailed him, including those who he and the U.K.-based organization say poisoned him in the city of Tomsk.

Human Rights in Ukraine: The recent use of a World War II veteran for Russia’s politically motivated persecution of opposition leader Alexei Navalny has whetted the appetite of those Russian ruling party politicians responsible for legislating repression.  The legislative amendments now proposed could have added a further five years to Navalny’s sentence and will certainly be used as a weapon in the current regime’s war against both historical truth and ‘dissidents’.  The legislative amendments, first reported on 22 February, have been prepared by a group of State Duma deputies, headed by Duma vice speaker Iryna Yarovaya.  The latter has been responsible over recent years for a number of particularly repressive laws on so-called ‘terrorism’ and ‘extremism’; on restrictions to peaceful assembly and to NGOs whom the state claims are ‘foreign agents’. 

Human Rights in Ukraine: Lyudmila Denisova, Ukraine’s Human Rights Ombudsperson has called on her Russian counterpart to ensure that Ukrainian political prisoner Ivan Yatskin is provided with proper medical care following treatment by prison staff that can only be described as torture. The Russian Ombudsperson, , Tatyana Moskalkova, has a highly specific attitude to human rights, but Denisova also announced on 25 February that she would be approaching the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights; the head of the UN’s Committee against Torture and representatives of other international bodies. Yatskin’s lawyer, Nikolai Polozov had earlier reported that on 12 February, his client had been held in a courtyard, wearing only slippers and flimsy clothing, for around an hour despite it being minus 14 outside.  Polozov made a public appeal for response since Yatskin’s toes are now a blue-purple colour and there is clearly something wrong.  He assumes this is frostbite, which can cause permanent damage if untreated.  Yatskin is held in the Lefortovo SIZO, or remand prison in Moscow, and, given the pandemic, it can only be welcome that his cell was subjected to proper sanitary measures.  He was, however, prevented from even taking a jacket with him and changing his footwear before being left out in the freezing cold.  He told Polozov that none of the staff had reacted to his calls for help.

The Moscow Times: Russia’s state communications regulator on Monday has accused Twitter of “maliciously violating Russian law” by failing to take down thousands of tweets containing banned information. According to Roskomnadzor, Twitter has not deleted 2,862 posts out of the more than 28,000 requests for removal the agency has sent since 2017. This includes 2,336 posts relating to suicide, 352 posts containing pornographic images of minors and 174 posts with information about drug manufacture and use, the agency said.

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