News of the Day: 11 February 2021

RFE/RL: A court in Russia’s Krasnodar region has sentenced a 63-year-old Jehovah’s Witness to 7 1/2 years in prison, a decision immediately condemned by the U.S. State Department. The sentence is the harshest since authorities launched a campaign against the religious group after it was officially labeled as extremist and banned in the country in 2017. The Abinsk district court on February 10 found Aleksandr Ivshin guilty of the “organization of an extremist grou

The Moscow Times: A St. Petersburg court has jailed Russian rapper Vyacheslav Mashnov, known as “Gnoyny” (“Rotten”), for using profanity at demonstrations in support of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny. Mashnov, who also goes by “Slava KPSS” (“Glory to the Communist Party of the Soviet Union”), was among the 1,500 people detained in Russia following Navalny’s Feb. 2 sentencing. Footage showed Mashnov ironically chanting “lick, don’t bite; a clitoris is a sensitive thing” at a march in Navalny’s support. St. Petersburg’s Kuybyshev District Court found Mashnov guilty of petty hooliganism and handed him seven days of administrative arrest.

RFE/RL: It was with “pain in my heart,” rector Konstantin Markelov said on January 29, that he announced the expulsion of three Astrakhan State University students for attending opposition protests. But “the law is the law,” he said in an open letter posted to social media. “Think a hundred times when they urge you to join unsanctioned demonstrations.” The university in southern Russia prompted an uproar with its decision, a case still rare in Russia despite an increasingly harsh crackdown on dissent following nationwide rallies in support of jailed opposition politician Aleksei Navalny on January 23. Now two of the students — Vera Inozemtseva and Aleksandr Mochalov — are suing the university and demanding their reinstatement. “I see my expulsion as a case of political repression,” Inozemtseva told RFE/RL in an interview.

RFE/RL: Russian security agents — including one allegedly linked to the poisoning of opposition politician Aleksei Navalny — tailed another Kremlin critic in the days and weeks before his two near-fatal poisoning illnesses, the investigative group Bellingcat said in a new report. The Bellingcat investigation, published on February 11, focuses on two incidents in Moscow in which Vladimir Kara-Murza, a veteran opposition activist who has lobbied Western governments for sanctions against Russian officials, nearly died after suffering what his doctors described as toxicity from an “unidentified substance.”

Human Rights Watch: Today, Russian authorities threatened to file charges against people who take part in protests scheduled for February 14. Prosecutors also threatened prosecution of social media and website owners if they continue to promote the St. Valentine’s Day protests. But this isn’t about street protests. It’s an absurd reaction to people lighting flashlights and candles on St. Valentine’s Day. The past few weeks have seen more than 10,000 peaceful protesters detained across Russia, intense police brutality, baseless criminal charges against organizers, and allegations of unfair trials and inhumane treatment. The protests have been organized by supporters of imprisoned political opposition figure Alexei Navalny, who announced they would suspend further protests until spring given authorities’ violent response. But earlier this week, Navalny’s team called for an organized flashmob on February 14, suggesting people go to their yards for 15 minutes, light a flashlight or candle, and post it on social media. The flashmob slogan is, “Love can defeat fear.” But even this entirely peaceful action isn’t safe for protesters in Russia.

FIDH: The Observatory has been informed about the acts of intimidation and judicial harassment against Darya Apakhonchich and Lolja Nordic, women’s and LGBT+ rights activists, Evgeniya Litvinova, member of the Human Rights Council of St. Petersburg and Sofia UlyashevaBogdan Litvin and Alexei Bezrukov, three activists of “Vesna” movement [1], in St. Petersburg in connection with mass protests held on January 23 and 31, 2021 in support of Alexei Navalny. On January 23, 2021, the Main Investigative Department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs in St. Petersburg initiated criminal proceedings against dozens of activists. They are accused of blocking traffic during the January 23, 2021 protest march in St. Petersburg under Article 267 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (“rendering means of transport or means of communication unusable”). According to preliminary information, Darya Apakhonchich, Lolja Nordic, Evgeniya Litvinova, Sofia Ulyasheva, Bogdan Litvin and Alexei Bezrukov figure as witnesses or accused in this criminal case. Orders to search the apartments of the six activists were issued by an investigator and not by a court as required under Article 165 of the Code of Criminal Procedure of the Russian Federation. The searches were designated as urgent to circumvent this rule.

CPJ: Of the more than 100 Russian journalists who have been arrested or fined covering rallies in support of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny, Mediazona chief editor Sergey Smirnov has become a symbol of the absurd lengths to which Russian authorities are willing to go to quash coverage of the events.  On January 20, Smirnov retweeted another person’s tweet saying the editor looked like a punk musician from the band Tarakany, or Cockroaches, in an advertisement for a January 23 pro-Navalny rally. The tweet was an inside joke — a reference to a past incident in which a pro-state Telegram channel misidentified a photo of a Russian rapper as Smirnov, Smirnov’s colleague Yegor Skovoroda told CPJ.  Ten days later, on January 30, Russian police arrested Smirnov; on February 3, he was sentenced to 25 days in prison on charges of “repeatedly violating the rules for holding public events” because of the retweet. At his first court hearing, Smirnov wore a T-shirt with the name of the punk band from the offending tweet – Cockroaches. On February 8 the sentence was reduced to 15 days.

Meduza: In recent weeks, the Russian authorities arrested thousands of demonstrators at protests across the country, sentencing hundreds to several days or weeks in jail. For many of these people, behind bars for the first time in their lives, state custody was a uniquely upsetting experience — particularly the “hole-in-the-floor” squat toilets located in plain sight of all the other cellmates. Meduza special correspondent Maxim Solopov looks at Russian jails’ failure to keep pace with modern comfort and privacy when it comes to pooping and peeing.

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