News of the Day: 9 March 2021

RFE/RL: A well-known Russian rights activist, Marina Litvinovich, says last week’s decision by the Moscow Public Monitoring Commission (ONK) to exclude her from the group was politically motivated. The commission on March 5 voted to leave Litvinovich off the panel saying that, in a televised interview earlier, she had disclosed information related to a probe launched into Lyubov Sobol, a lawyer of jailed opposition politician Aleksei Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation. Sobol is currently under detention on charges of breaking coronavirus restrictions by publicly calling on Moscow residents to take part in unsanctioned rallies to support Navalny. Members of the ONK monitor the rights of inmates in Russian penitentiaries and have a right to visit detention centers and correctional facilities to hear complaints from inmates. Litvinovich told Current Time in an interview on March 9 that the allegations against her were false and that the decision to exclude her from the group she had served on since 2019 was made due to her activism.

RFE/RL: One of Russia’s leading organizations addressing domestic violence and LGBT rights, Nasiliyu.Net, is facing eviction from its Moscow office three months after being placed on Moscow’s controversial “foreign agent” list. Anna Rivina, the head of the NGO, wrote on Facebook on March 8 that the landlord had requested the group to vacate the premises within a month. Rivina said her team moved last summer into the premises, where they speak with domestic-violence victims and hold support sessions and educational events. The landlord initially requested the group to vacate the office in 10 days in early February, she said, before then giving the NGO to the end of March to leave.

CPJ: Russian authorities should drop all charges against journalist Aleksey Mironov and allow the press to cover protests and other political events without fear, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. On March 5, police in Cheboksary, the capital of the central Russian autonomous republic of Chuvashia, detained Mironov, a freelance camera operator, at his home, and brought him to the city’s First Police Station for questioning, according to news reports and the journalist, who spoke to CPJ in a phone interview. Officers interrogated Mironov for about four hours about his alleged participation in a January 23 rally in support of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, he said. Mironov told CPJ that he covered that rally on assignment for the U.S. Congress-funded broadcaster Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), as the broadcaster also reported.

RFE/RL: A prominent liberal lawmaker has called on Russian authorities to properly investigate the two sudden near-fatal illnesses suffered by opposition activist Vladimir Kara-Murza while traveling in Russia. The call by Lev Shlosberg, made in an interview with RFE/RL, wasn’t expected to yield an immediate U-turn from Russian law enforcement, which has ignored at least two requests from Kara-Murza to open an investigation into the circumstances of his illnesses, in 2015 and 2017. But it does keep the spotlight on the question of whether Russian security agencies have been utilizing toxins — possibly created as part of a secret chemical-weapons program — to target dissidents, activists, journalists, or even former intelligence agents.

The Moscow Times: The Russian Federal Security Service (FSB)’s internal estimates for recent marches in support of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny placed the protester count at much higher numbers than officially acknowledged, the Meduza news website reported Tuesday. The data is reportedly part of the highly secretive FSB military counterintelligence unit’s first known comprehensive review of public support for Navalny.

RFE/RL: Russian opposition politician Aleksei Navalny’s team has announced plans to open offices in 10 cities where it believes the ruling United Russia party is most vulnerable in elections that must be held by September 19. Leonid Volkov, the coordinator of Navalny’s network of teams, said in a statement on March 9 that expanding into the cities “is most likely to help take away mandates” from United Russia in the vote. “A friendly young team, an opportunity to make Russia better, parcels [with food and other items] to preliminary detention centers [in case of incarceration] are included in the social package – in short, we have a dream job for you,” he wryly added in the statement. The 10 cities are Ulyanovsk, Orenburg, Astrakhan, Kirov, Vladimir, Ulan-Ude, Kursk, Chita, Petrozavodsk, Abakan.

Human Rights in Ukraine: During the surreal ‘trial’ now underway in occupied Crimea of Mustafa Dzhemilev, it was learned that Russia had extended its ban on the veteran Crimean Tatar leader for a further 15 years, following the 5-year term it imposed after invading and annexing Dzhemilev’s homeland in 2014.  It is most unlikely that the 76-year-old Ukrainian MP and former leader of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis [representative assembly] has any wish to visit Russia, where he once spent 15 years in the Soviet political labour camps .  That, in any case, is not what Moscow fears, with this ban always about trying to minimize Dzhemilev’s moral and political influence in Crimea while it remains under Russian occupation.

Human Rights in Ukraine: It was exactly seven years ago, on 9 March 2014, that Ukrainians from all over Crimea gathered at monuments to the great Ukrainian poet, Taras Shevchenko in effectively the last demonstrations possible against Russia’s invasion. It was also on that day, even before its ‘formal’ annexation of Crimea, that Russia seized its first Ukrainian political prisoner, Mykola Shyptur.  The timing could not have been more poignantly appropriate.  9 March 2014 marked the bicentenary of Shevchenko’s birth, 10 March – the anniversary of his death in Russian exile, in 1861, aged just 48. In the 1960s, Ukrainians began demonstrating defiance of the Soviet regime by gathering at monuments to Shevchenko on 9-10 March, reading poems, singing Ukrainian songs and laying flowers.  The gatherings then required courage and could lead to persecution.  Within a year of Russian occupation, participants in such a gathering in Simferopol were prosecuted, with the Ukrainian flag called ‘a prohibited symbol’, with the gathering itself outlawed the following year.

The Moscow Times: One of Galina Yanchikova’s earliest memories is playing with her grandfather’s feet as a three year old the last time she saw him before he left exile in Kazakhstan to try to return to Moscow.  Prominent Marxist activist and academic Friedrich Bauermeister had left Germany with his family for Stalin’s U.S.S.R. in 1934, and been given a central Moscow apartment and a teaching job, before being deported to the Kazakh steppe along with the rest of Russia’s German population seven years later when Hitler invaded the Soviet Union.  Yanchikova, 65, one of around 1,500 surviving children born in internal exile to Gulag inmates imprisoned under Stalin, has spent a decade fighting for the compensation Russian law guarantees to descendents of victims of Soviet-era repressions that would allow her to leave her isolated cottage.  Now, a legislative battle in Russia’s parliament could make or break the hopes for restitution of the dwindling band of “Gulag Children.”

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