News of the Day: 8 February 2021

RFE/RL: The Moscow-based Memorial Human Rights Center has recognized 10 associates and supporters of jailed opposition politician Aleksei Navalny as political prisoners. In a February 8 statement, Memorial said it had recognized as political prisoners the individuals detained on the eve of unsanctioned mass rallies against Navalny’s arrest in late-January and charged with publicly calling for the violation of sanitary and epidemiological safety precautions. The 10 include, Navalny’s brother Oleg Navalny, Lyubov Sobol, a lawyer of Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation, municipal lawyers Dmitry Baranovsky, Konstantin Yanauskas, and Lyusya Shtein, the chief of the Physicians’ Alliance NGO Anastasia Vasilyeva, a leading member of the Pussy Riot protest group, Maria Alyokhina, a coordinator of Navalny’s team in Moscow, Oleg Stepanov, Navalny’s spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh, and an activist Nikolai Lyaskin. The majority of these people were placed under house arrest. If found guilty of the charges, each person faces up to two years in prison.

The Guardian: Chechnya has opened a terrorism investigation into two gay men who fled the region last year but were arrested near Moscow last week and forcibly returned. The rights group that helped the men escape Chechnya, an autonomous Russian republic where the torture, detentions and killings of gay men have been reported since 2017, said they weren’t certain why exactly the men were being persecuted but that one of them had earlier been interrogated for sharing LGBTQ emojis in an online group.

Human Rights Watch: In 2019, Anastasiya Shevchenko was the first person to be criminally charged for involvement with an “undesirable” foreign organization. Yana Antonova’s case was the first to move to court, and Maxim Vernikov was the first to be sentenced. Now Mikhail Iosilevich, an entrepreneur from Nizhniy Novgorod, has set yet another first: the first person placed in pre-trial detention under this deeply repressive law. Once designated “undesirable” under the law, an organization must cease all activities in Russia, and anyone deemed to be involved with it can be held criminally liable. Iosilevich owns a space called “The Place,” which provides a venue for civic society events — lectures, debates, and performances. Iosilevich’s ordeal started on October 1, when police raided his apartment and those of  six other civic activists in Nizhniy Novgorod. Police later interrogated them as witnesses to Iosilevich’s alleged involvement with an “undesirable organization.” A court ordered him not to leave the city. The “undesirable” organization in question, Open Russia, is a public movement, authorities accuse of being affiliated with Mikhail Khodorkovsky, an exiled former oil tycoon.

EU-Russia Civil Society Forum: The Board of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum is outraged by the violation of the judicial procedure, unjustified large-scale detentions of protesters and the inadmissible violence of the Russian police against the civilians. We express our solidarity with and support to the Russian civil society, as well as the lawyers and human rights defenders providing protection to the detainees. The Board demands that the Russian authorities stop the repression and respect the rights and freedoms of citizens, including the freedom of assembly.

Front Line Defenders: On 8 February, the Moscow City Court considered an appeal on the arrest of Sergey Smirnov and ordered that his administrative detention be reduced to 15 days. The hearing was scheduled for 2pm, however, due to a bomb scare at the court the hearing was postponed until 5:35pm. Sergey Smirnov spent the three and a half hours before the court session resumed in a police car.

Human Rights in Ukraine: Crimean Tatar journalist Remzi Bekirov and four civic activists were taken from occupied Crimea to Russia last week to face ‘trial’ on charges that have elicited international condemnation.  Russia is already in flagrant violation of international law through its persecution of the Crimean Tatars and their effective deportation to Russia.  It added torture to that list, by transporting four of the men: Rayim Aivazov; Farkhod Bazarov; Riza Izetov and Shaban Umerov ‘in a glass’, – a cell of no more than half a metre in length and width.  Only Bekirov, who is 2 metres tall and in ill health was spared this treatment which the European Court of Human Rights has previously classified as equivalent to torture.  The journey from Simferopol to Krasnodar is long and gruelling even in decent circumstances, and here, in the middle of winter, human rights activist Riza Izeta had no heating at all, while in Bekirov’s case, it stopped working several hours before the end of the journey.  On their arrival at the SIZO [remand prison] in Krasnodar, Raim Aivazov was placed in a cell where the men have to take turns sleeping as there aren’t enough beds.

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