News of the Day: 12 March 2021

The Moscow Times: Russians’ life expectancy plummeted in 2020 as the coronavirus pandemic disrupted President Vladimir Putin’s goal to increase lifespans, according to state figures cited by the RBC news website Thursday. Annual life expectancy dropped for the first time in 17 years from a record of 73.3 years in 2019 to 71.1 years last year, according to the cited preliminary figures. Russia’s state statistics agency recently announced 323,000 excess deaths in 2020, the highest in a decade and a half.

The Moscow Times: Dozens of countries took Russia to task at the UN on Friday over its imprisonment of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, and slammed numerous “arbitrary arrests” of his supporters. In a historic joint statement delivered to the United Nations Human Rights Council, 45 countries voiced alarm at “the deteriorating situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms” in Russia, “manifested in particular by the unlawful detention, arrest and imprisonment of Mr. Alexei Navalny.” They called for the “immediate and unconditional release” of Navalny and all others “unlawfully or arbitrarily detained.”

Poland in the UN: On 12 March 2021 in the Human Rights Council during the General Debate on ITEM 4 (Human rights situations that require the Council’s attention), Ambassador Zbigniew Czech, Permanent Representative of Poland to the United Nations Office at Geneva, delivered a cross-regional joint statement on behalf of 45 states concerning the deteriorating human rights situation in Russia in the context of the case of Alexei Navalny.

Human Rights Watch: For the second time in two years, a group of members at the Human Rights Council, the United Nations’ top human rights body, came together to denounce rights violations in Russia. Two years ago, they expressed outrage over the persecution of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people (LGBT) in Chechnya. Now, the arrest and sentencing of opposition activist Alexei Navalny and the detention of thousands of peaceful protesters have triggered concerns. The group also rightly pointed at the shrinking space for civil society in Russia and “recent legislative amendments and constitutional changes which further restrict rights and freedoms.” Navalny’s arrest represents only part of Russia’s deepening crackdown on media, critics, and civil society. In recent years, authorities have used new laws on “foreign agents” and “undesirable foreign organizations” to demonize independent groups, ban foreign or international NGOs, and, more recently, to press criminal charges against Russian activists.

RFE/RL: Lawyers for Russian opposition politician Aleksei Navalny say he has been moved from a detention center in the Vladimir region, northeast of the Russian capital, to an undisclosed location amid a call from Western countries for his immediate release. Navalny, a prominent critic of President Vladimir Putin, was sent to prison last month to serve 2 1/2 years over alleged parole violations related to an embezzlement case he and rights activists say was trumped up for political reasons, something the authorities deny. Navalny’s lawyers said in a tweet on March 12 that they showed up at Detention Center No. 3 in Kolchugino at the start of the work day, only to be run around and deceived before being informed several hours later “that Aleksei had left.” The TASS news agency quoted on unnamed source in law enforcement as saying he had been moved to a penitentiary in nearby Pokrov, but was in quarantine, which can last as long as 15 days under Russian law. Russian authorities typically do not provide information about the transfer of prisoners until after they reach their destination and by late afternoon Navalny’s lawyers reiterated that they still did know his whereabouts.

RFE/RL: When Russia announced it was slowing down Twitter access this week, citing the social network’s alleged failure to delete objectionable material, it was seen as a sign that the Kremlin was acting on repeated threats to bring the Internet under control. “This will make all other social networks and major foreign web companies understand that Russia won’t continue to silently watch as our laws are flouted,” a lawmaker who co-authored laws legalizing the move told reporters. But the initiative appeared to badly backfire when users across the country began reporting that a host of government websites, including the homepages of the Kremlin and Interior Ministry, were temporarily down. Just months ago, authorities halted a failed two-year push to block the Telegram messaging app that had led to the disabling of 16 million IP addresses on Amazon’s and Google’s cloud platforms and prompted ridicule from tech experts worldwide.

RFE/RL: The chief of Russia’s Federal Penitentiary System (FSIN) may use convicts to help clean a contaminated zone of the Arctic following a massive diesel spill. “I have asked leaders of [FSIN] branches in the regions located in the Arctic zone to continue working [on the issue of using inmates in clean-up operations],” FSIN head Aleksandr Kalashnikov said in Moscow on March 12, adding that the matter had been agreed upon with the authorities of the Krasnoyarsk Krai region and the city of Norilsk. Last May, more than 21,000 tons of diesel leaked into the Norilsk environment from the tank of a thermal power plant belonging to a subsidiary of Russian metallurgical giant Norilsk Nickel (Nornickel), owned by Russia’s richest man, Vladimir Potanin. The spill sparked an outcry and led to the dismissal in October of Norilsk Mayor Rinat Akhmetchin, who was also sentenced to six months of correctional work for negligence.

The Moscow Times: Over 6,300 surveillance cameras in Russia are not secure, making them vulnerable to cybercriminals, experts told the Kommersant business daily Friday. Dark web users can easily access footage and private data from the CCTV cameras installed at places like industrial plants, businesses and smart home systems as they have public IP addresses, Kommersant cited experts from the Avast cybersecurity software company as saying.

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