News of the Day: 4 February 2021

Front Line Defenders: On 31 January 2021, six human rights defenders and members of the Committee Against Torture, Timur Rahmatulin, Konstantin Gusev, Magomed Alamov, Sergey Shunin, Ekaterina Vanslova and Igor Kalyapin were detained while monitoring the protests in support of Alexei Navalny in Nizhny Novgorod, Orenburg and Pyatigorsk. On 23 January, another member of the Committee Against Torture, Evgeniy Chilikov was detained.

RFE/RL: EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell is due to begin a three-day visit to Moscow on February 4 amid strong criticism from Western countries over the jailing of opposition politician Aleksei Navalny and a crackdown on protesters. Russia’s treatment of Navalny, whose arrest and imprisonment sparked thousands of people across Russia to demonstrate, and the crackdown on those demonstrations are the topics expected to dominate Borrell’s talks with Russian officials.

Human Rights Watch: It’s an understatement to say that Josep Borrell’s first visit to Russia in his capacity as the European Union’s foreign affairs chief is a major event. The EU’s relations with Russia hit a new low in January following the politically motivated arrest of the opposition leader Alexei Navalny right after his return from Germany, where he had been treated for a near-fatal poisoning. The eyes of both top European policymakers and the Kremlin will be on Borrell. But Borrell will also be scrutinized by the thousands of Russian citizens who are faced with new waves of repression because they stood up against corruption and injustice.

The Guardian: The wife of a Russian website editor jailed for a retweet has denounced the conditions in which he is being held, as thousands of protesters remain detained in holding centres overwhelmed by a recent crackdown on supporters of Alexei Navalny. Leaked videos from the Sakharovo holding centre for immigrants near Moscow, which has been turned into a jail owing to the more than 10,000 arrests in the last two weeks since protests began against Vladimir Putin. “Look at this shit,” said one detainee, Maria Silantyeva, zooming in on an open toilet inside a cell where more than 20 young women were being held. “When I came in someone was doing her business.” The cells were meant for eight prisoners but many are holding double or triple that number. “There are no mattresses, people have been here for 36 hours,” Silantyeva said in the Instagram video. Many of the women wave as the camera passes them; some are eating sandwiches of cheese and sausage. In a caption, Silantyeva wrote: “I’m asking for maximum coverage. It should not be like this.”

The Moscow Times: Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny called on his supporters Thursday to fight fear and free Russia from “a handful of thieves in power,” in his first detailed comments since being ordered to serve out a prison sentence. The 44-year-old anti-corruption campaigner, who was jailed Tuesday on old embezzlement charges, wrote on Instagram that the authorities could only retain power if Russians remained afraid.  “But we, having overcome fear, can free our homeland from a handful of thieves in power. Let’s do it. We must do it.” Navalny returned to Russia last month from Germany where he was recovering from an August poisoning attack with the Novichok nerve agent.

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