News of the Day: 2 February 2021

Amnesty International: A court in Moscow has sentenced opposition activist and Kremlin critic Aleksei Navalny to two years and eight months in prison, amid a brutal crackdown on peaceful protests which saw at least 5,021 people detained on 31 January alone. The Simonovsky District Court granted a motion put forward by the Federal Penitentiary Service to replace Aleksei Navalny’s suspended sentence with jail time, and he will be held at a penal colony. “In their vendetta against Aleksei Navalny and his supporters, the Russian authorities have shredded any remaining veneer of justice and respect for human rights. The politically motivated sentencing of Aleksei Navalny shows the true face of the Russian authorities, who seem intent on locking up anyone who dares to speak out against their abuses and repression of human rights,” said Natalya Zviagina, Amnesty International’s Moscow Office Director.

Human Rights Watch: A Moscow court ruled today that Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny had violated the terms of his probation and sent him to prison for 3.5 years. The court stated that since he’s already served a year under house arrest in 2014, he’ll have to serve 2.5 years behind bars. While not a surprise, the ruling is monstrously unjust, and he should be immediately freed. In his closing speech in court today Navalny, condemned the proceedings as unlawful, saying authorities aimed to “jail one person to intimidate millions.” The Russian Penitentiary Service claims Navalny failed to report to the probation service between August 2020 and January 2021. In August, Navalny was nearly fatally poisoned in an attack independent investigators allege was organized and executed by Federal Security Service operatives. He was evacuated to Germany in a coma, recovered there and returned to Russia on January 17 to face widely anticipated arrest upon arrival.

Committee to Protect Journalists: Russian authorities should immediately and unconditionally release all journalists detained during recent protests, and allow members of the press to cover political demonstrations without fear, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. During nationwide protests by supporters of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny on January 31, as well as in their immediate run-up, police throughout the country detained, intimidated, or harassed at least 122 journalists, according to news reports and a report by the Professional Union of Journalists and Media Workers, an independent trade group. In previous pro-Navalny protests on January 23, the union reported about half as many such attacks, as CPJ documented at the time. “Russian authorities should stop punishing journalists who are doing their jobs, and immediately drop all charges against all media workers being targeted for their reporting on the protests of January 23 and 31,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator. “Journalists covering civil unrest should be protected by law enforcement, not detained and harassed.”

Human Rights Watch: Foreign Minister Ann Linde’s trip to Moscow this week, the first one during Sweden’s chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), comes as Russia is in the midst of a severe human rights crisis. Last month’s arrest of the Russian opposition leader, Alexei Navalny, five months after his near-fatal poisoning, shocked many in Sweden and around the world. And the arrests of thousands of protesters across Russia during the past two weekends underscores the breadth of the politically motivated crackdown on the opposition. It is only the tip of the iceberg.  Toward the end of 2020, Russia’s government rammed legislative amendments through parliament clearly aimed at shutting down civil society and silencing independent or critical voices. The amendments drastically expand the scope of the law on “foreign agents,” the toxic label that Russian authorities for years have assigned to a wide range of independent groups to demonize and isolate them. Indeed, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the Kremlin seeks to equate as “foreign” any speech or action that is any way critical of the authorities.

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