News of the Day: 3 June 2021

The Moscow Times: Russia has sentenced six Jehovah’s Witnesses to multi-year prison terms on extremism charges, the religious organization said Thursday. Rights advocates decry Russia’s prosecutions of Jehovah’s Witnesses — which has been banned in Russia as an “extremist” group since 2017 — as infringements of religious freedom. A district court in the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk sentenced engineer Andrei Stupnikov, 47, to six years in prison on charges of “organizing extremist activities,” the Jehovah’s Witnesses said in an emailed statement.

RFE/RL: At least seven Jehovah’s Witnesses have been handed prison terms in Russia amid a continuing crackdown on the religious group, which was banned in the country in 2017. Representatives of Jehovah’s Witnesses informed RFE/RL that a court in Russia’s Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk sentenced Andrei Stupnikov to six years in prison on June 3 after finding him guilty of the organization of activities of an extremist organization. Stupnikov was arrested three years ago. He was initially kept in a detention center and later transferred to house arrest. Stupnikov rejected the charge, insisting that the case against him was launched because of his religious views.

The Guardian: A Russian business newspaper that has been targeted as a foreign agent has said it is shutting down because of fears that its journalists could be prosecuted, writing that the Russian government “does not need professional and uncontrolled media”. VTimes, founded by reporters fleeing censorship in Russia’s business media, said it would close down three weeks after it was put on a list of foreign agents that critics have called a death sentence for independent media outlets.

RFE/RL: Russia’s media regulator has notified RFE/RL that it plans to draft another set of 130 protocols for violations of the country’s controversial “foreign agent” law requiring the labeling of content. The violations covered under the Roskomnadzor summons on June 2 total 71.5 million rubles, or about $980,000. The charges will be drafted and issued between June 15 and July 6 and sent to court for adjudication.

RFE/RL: Russian opposition politician and former lawmaker Dmitry Gudkov was released from custody on June 3 without being formally charged. Gudkov was detained in Moscow two days earlier over an allegedly unpaid debt on a rented property dating from several years ago. A court had been expected to consider the terms of his pretrial detention, but the hearing did not take place. The politician was legally required to be released on the evening of June 3 as 48 hours had elapsed since his detention.

RFE/RL: Activists say Russia’s Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN) in the Siberian region of Irkutsk has used a legal maneuver to keep lawyers from human rights groups from defending cases of alleged torture in the region’s jails and penal colonies. Rights activist Svyatoslav Khromenkov told RFE/RL on June 3 that three lawyers for the Siberia Without Torture group had received official letters from the FSIN saying they had been given the status of witnesses in high-profile torture cases, which under Russia law makes it impossible for them to defend the inmates. The group’s lawyer, Dmitry Dmitriyev, called the move “a way to deprive inmates of legal assistance.”

RFE/RL: Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova has defended her country’s controversial labeling of some foreign-funded media as “foreign agents” by saying Moscow was “forced” to adopt the measure in response to actions taken by the United States. The labeling of “foreign agents” has been interpreted by many civil society activists as another tool for the Kremlin to use to intimidate Russia’s political opposition, especially with parliamentary elections looming in September and the ruling United Russia party slumping in opinion polls. “We were forced to do it to defend our journalists and our information space,” Zakharova said at a breakfast roundtable on the “foreign agent” law in St. Petersburg on June 3.

RFE/RL: Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has criticized Margarita Simonyan, the editor in chief of several Russian state-controlled media outlets, for making public comments that amounted to “open support” for an ongoing crackdown on independent media in Belarus. On May 23, Belarus dispatched a fighter jet to intercept a Ryanair commercial flight and forced it to land in Minsk, citing a purported bomb threat. Once the plane was on the ground, journalist and opposition activist Raman Pratasevich and his Russian girlfriend, who were both aboard the flight, were detained. No bomb was found on the aircraft.

The Moscow Times: Russian lawmakers for the first time have passed a law that will limit private enterprises’ greenhouse gas emissions as the country looks to catch up with global climate reforms. The legislation, which was approved in its third and final reading in the lower-house State Duma on Tuesday, would create a system to regulate emissions in Russia, currently the world’s fourth-largest emitter. It also seeks to encourage Russian companies to invest in environmental restoration projects and abandon practices harmful to the climate and national economy. According to the bill, companies that emit more than 150,000 tons of CO2 (or the equivalent mass of other greenhouse gases) per year must limit their emissions from 2023. Companies emitting between 50,000 and 150,000 tons annually will have to report their emissions starting from 2024.

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