News of the Day: 12 November 2021

The Moscow Times: Russia on Friday confirmed 40,123 Covid-19 infections and 1,235 deaths.

The Council of Europe: Statement by Council of Europe Secretary General Marija Pejčinović Burić: The news that the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office seeks to liquidate International Memorial, one of Russia’s oldest and most reputable human rights organisations, on the basis of the so-called “Foreign Agents” law is very regrettable. As the Council of Europe repeatedly indicated, this law stigmatises NGOs, media and individuals and has had a repressive impact on civil society in Russia over recent years. Unfortunately, the Russian Federation has not acted upon the Council of Europe’s repeated calls to repeal the Foreign Agents legislation. The liquidation of International Memorial would deal a further devastating blow to civil society, which is an essential pillar of any democracy. We therefore urge the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office to reconsider this move and reiterate our availability to assist the Russian authorities in reviewing the “Foreign Agents law” in line with the European Convention on Human Rights.

RFE/RL: The head of the Council of Europe (CoE) says Russia’s moves aimed at closing down the rights group Memorial are “regrettable” and would deal a “devastating blow” to civil society in the country.

The Moscow Times: Closing down respected Russian rights group Memorial would deal a “devastating blow” to civil society in the country, the secretary-general of pan-European rights body the Council of Europe said Friday.

Amnesty International, Civic Assistance Committee (designated a “foreign agent” by Russia’s Justice Ministry), Civil Rights Defenders, Committee Against Torture, Conflict Analysis and Prevention Center, European Human Rights Advocacy Center (EHRAC), EU-Russia Civil Society Forum’s Board, Front Line Defenders, Human Rights Watch, International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Norwegian Helsinki Committee: Joint statement by Russian and international human rights groups in support of Memorial: Russian authorities’ move to shut down Memorial, one of Russia’s oldest and most prominent civil society organizations standing up for human rights, working to commemorate victims of Soviet repression, and providing a platform for free debate and artistic expression, is an outrageous strike into the very heart of Russia’s human rights community. Memorial has two key entities: Memorial Human Rights Center and International Memorial Society. On November 11, International Memorial Society received a letter from Russia’s Supreme Court informing them that on November 8 the Prosecutor General’s Office had filed a lawsuit seeking their liquidation over repeated violations of Russia’s “foreign agents” legislation. The court hearing is set for November 25.

Amnesty International: Reacting to news that Russian prosecutors have requested the judicial liquidation of the prominent human rights group International Memorial, and its sister organization Human Rights Centre Memorial, Marie Struthers, Eastern Europe and Central Asia Director at Amnesty International, said: “The Russian authorities’ move to extinguish one of the oldest and most influential human rights groups in the country demonstrates their relentless determination to end all ongoing human rights work in Russia. By targeting Memorial and its mission to preserve the memory of victims of human rights violations during the Soviet era, the authorities believe they can simply erase the state’s past crimes against its own people from the history books forever.”

Human Rights Watch [Tanya Lokshina]: Russian authorities have moved to shut down Memorial, one of Russia’s oldest and most prominent rights organization, an outrageous assault on the jugular of Russia’s civil society. Memorial, which defends human rights, works to commemorate victims of Soviet repression, and provides a platform for open debate, has two key entities: Memorial Human Rights Center and International Memorial Society.

EU-Russia Civil Society Forum: The Board of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum strongly condemns the recent decisions taken by the Russian authorities and calls for the quashing this legislation. We also call on European civil society actors, authorities of the European Union and its member states, as well as the institutions of the international community, such as the Council of Europe, to express their solidarity with these organisations and individuals and demand the quashing of these repressive laws.

BASEES: It is with utter shock and disbelief that BASEES received the news that Russia’s Prosecutor General has requested that the Supreme Court ‘liquidate’ Memorial, one of Russia’s oldest civil rights organisations.

RFE/RL: Shortly after it received a notice from Russia’s Supreme Court saying prosecutors were seeking its closure, Russia’s oldest and perhaps most revered human rights group, Memorial, shared the news in a tweet that summed up the reaction of its staff: “We can’t believe it.” And yet, many observers of Russia’s increasingly authoritarian turn under President Vladimir Putin were not surprised by this development.

Human Rights in Ukraine: Russia has taken legal steps to get both the International Memorial Society and the Memorial Human Rights Centre forcibly dissolved.  In both cases, alleged infringements of the notorious ‘Foreign Agents’ law are cited as the pretext, however the two organizations, which play a vital role in monitoring political and religious persecution in Russia and occupied Crimea, have long faced different forms of attack.

RFE/RL: A Russian court in southwestern city of Rostov-on-Don has handed lengthy prison terms to a third group of individuals from the North Caucasus region of North Ossetia who took part in a massive rally in April 2020 against anti-coronavirus restrictions. The Kirov district court on November 12 found Akhsartag Ailarov, Dzhon Dzhioyev, Valery Melikyan, and Bimbolat Bekuzarov guilty of taking part in mass disorders and sentenced them to 3 1/2 years in prison each. A fourth individual, Zaur Kaitmazov, was sentenced to four years in prison on the same charge.

Human Rights in Ukraine: In a chilling new escalation in Russian repression in occupied Crimea, lawyer Edem Semedlyaev has been jailed for twelve days essentially for representing Crimean Tatars facing prosecution for trying to attend a political hearing.  Semedlyaev was also fined four thousand roubles for disobeying the officer who illegally ordered the lawyer to strip naked.  As fellow lawyer Nikolai Polozov has commented, this is not just the Russian occupation authorities’ personal revenge against Edem himself for his active position in politically motivated cases, but ‘a red spot’ to terrorize all lawyers involved in such cases.  

RFE/RL: Russian authorities have added the founding leader of a human rights group that recently released a second batch of videos purportedly showing torture and rape at a prison hospital to the country’s list of wanted criminals.Vladimir Osechkin’s name appeared on the wanted persons registry of Russia’s Interior Ministry on November 11, two days after his organization released a second batch of videos that Osechkin says were recorded in the OTB-1 tuberculosis infirmary between July 2015 and September 2020.

The Moscow Times: Russia has added the founder of a prominent prisoners’ rights NGO that has leaked video of alleged widespread prison torture to its wanted list for a second time, the activist said Friday. founder Vladimir Osechkin, who has lived in France since 2015, was added to Russia’s wanted list two days after the NGO published a new batch of videos showing graphic torture and rape of inmates at a Saratov region prison hospital. 

EU-Russia Civil Society Forum: Civil society organizations and activists defending democratic values, human rights and environment in Bulgaria and Russia continue to be exposed to strong online pressure and hate speech in the media and internet. However, independent and democratic journalists and media outlets have the power to help activists to overcome this problem by reporting on their work and covering cases of repression against them. It was concluded at the online round table with representatives of civil society organizations from Bulgaria and Russia on the topic “From Russia to the EU? Media and online pressure against the defenders of human rights and the environment in Bulgaria”. The discussion, organized by the BlueLink Foundation, took place on November 10, 2021 as part of the events dedicated to the 10th anniversary of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum.

The Moscow Times: Two Russian paratroopers died during snap military drills with Belarus near its western border with EU member Poland on Friday when their parachutes malfunctioned in strong winds, the Defense Ministry in Moscow said. “Despite doctors’ efforts both Russian servicemen died of their wounds,” the  ministry said in a statement carried by Russian news agencies.

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