News of the Day: 5 February 2021

RFE/RL: Jailed opposition politician Aleksei Navalny has accused Russian officials of “fabricating” a slander case against him for comments he wrote on Twitter about several people who appeared in a pro-Kremlin video. Navalny was in court on February 5 to face charges he slandered a World War II veteran who took part in the promotional video in support of last year’s constitutional amendments that cleared the way for President Vladimir Putin to run for two more terms in office after 2024 if he wants. Navalny was charged after describing the veteran, Ignat Artyomenko, and others in the video as “the shame of the country” and “traitors” on Twitter in June 2020. “I understand very well how this case arose, why it was fabricated…the whole thing was invented,” Navalny told the court.

Meduza: Detainees at a special detention center in the village of Sakharovo — where the authorities sent protesters arrested amid the mass demonstrations in support of imprisoned opposition politician Alexey Navalny — staged a protest on the night of February 4. This was reported by Marina Litvinovich, a member of Moscow’s Public Monitoring Commission (ONK). 

The Moscow Times: Alexei Navalny’s supporters will stop staging protests demanding his release until at least this spring, a key aide of the imprisoned Kremlin critic said Thursday. Leonid Volkov, head of Navalny’s regional network of campaign-style offices, announced he would not be calling supporters to take to the streets for a third successive weekend of protests across Russia, citing the forceful police crackdowns and concerns more arrests would hamper the organization’s plans to campaign ahead of parliamentary elections scheduled for September. “If we go out every week, thousands more will be detained, and hundreds more beaten,” Volkov said in a live broadcast on Navalny’s YouTube channel. “The work of the regional headquarters will be paralyzed and it will be impossible to work on elections. This is not what Alexei wants from us. Alexei has asked us to concentrate on this autumn,” when State Duma elections will be held.

RFE/RL: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Inc. (RFE/RL) has appealed a string of Russian court decisions to fine several of the broadcaster’s Russian-language endeavours and the general director of its operations in Russia for allegedly failing to comply with new restrictions under the country’s controversial “foreign-agent” law. RFE/RL’s lawyers on February 5 filed the appeals against the decisions by the Tverskoi District Court in Moscow to approve several administrative protocols submitted by Russian media regulator Roskomnadzor “for noncompliance by the media performing the functions of a foreign agent with the requirements of the law on labeling information disseminated by them.” Among other things, the law on foreign agents requires certain news organizations that receive foreign funding to label content within Russia as being produced by a “foreign agent.” RFE/RL’s lawyers stated in their appeals that Roskomnadzor’s moves prevent journalists from performing professional activities and contradict the Russian Constitution and laws on media by restricting competition.

Human Rights Watch: Russian authorities are escalating pressure on social media companies, forcing them to censor online content deemed illegal by the government, Human Rights Watch said today. Social media platforms have received warnings and face fines and potential blocking for failure to comply with Russia’s rapidly growing oppressive internet legislation. The authorities’ demands for censorship have followed recent waves of mass protests throughout Russia, expressing outrage over government corruption and the imprisonment of the political opposition figure Alexei Navalny. Law enforcement arbitrarily detained at least 10,000 people, including peaceful protesters, passers-by, and journalists. Local human rights groups reported numerous cases of police brutality.

The Guardian: Angela Merkel has condemned as “unjustified” Russia’s expulsion of European diplomats for participating in unauthorised demonstrations in support of the jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny. “We consider these expulsions to be unjustified. We believe it is yet another aspect that can be observed right now of Russia being quite far from the rule of law,” the German chancellor said on Friday at an online press conference with France’s president, Emmanuel Macron. Germany’s foreign minister, Heiko Maas, said earlier that the decision by Moscow to declare the diplomats from Poland, Germany and Sweden personae non gratae would “not go unanswered”. Maas said the German diplomat concerned had been “solely fulfilling his duty … of informing himself about developments on the ground by lawful means”.

RFE/RL: After two weeks of police beatings, thousands of arrests, and a wave of criminal prosecutions whose reach is only just becoming apparent, allies of imprisoned Kremlin foe Aleksei Navalny have called an end to the anti-government protests they incited over the course of three consecutive weeks. “If we continue to go out each week, we’ll continue to get thousands arrested and hundreds beaten,” Leonid Volkov, a top Navalny aide, told supporters in a YouTube video announcing the decision. “That’s not what we want, and that’s not what Aleksei asks of us.” The protests ended the day Navalny was sentenced to over 2 1/2 years in prison on February 2, and Volkov said his allies would continue to fight for his release — prioritizing “foreign policy methods,” including pressuring Western leaders to impose sanctions, while not shirking from street rallies down the line. “We won’t run out of reasons, and we won’t run out of demands,” he said. But the statement, which came as hundreds of protesters languish in squalid jails awaiting trial, immediately prompted indignation. Navalny supporters took to social media to voice their anger over what some perceived as capitulation.

RFE/RL: A top doctor at the hospital in Omsk where opposition politician Aleksei Navalny was treated immediately after his poisoning last summer has died, the hospital and regional Health Ministry said on February 4. Sergei Maksimishin, who was the deputy chief physician for anesthesiology and resuscitation at Omsk emergency hospital No. 1, died in his ward from a heart attack, the press service of the regional Health Ministry told Open Media. He was 55. Navalny was treated in the same intensive care unit after he was poisoned in August. The hospital said Maksimishin “suddenly passed away,” according to a statement quoted by CNN. It did not provide the cause of death. Navalny, 44, was initially admitted to the acute poisoning unit of Omsk emergency hospital No. 1 on August 20 after he became ill on a flight from Tomsk to Moscow.

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