News of the Day: 14 December 2020

Bellingcat: A joint investigation between Bellingcat and The Insider, in cooperation with Der Spiegel and CNN, has discovered voluminous telecom and travel data that implicates Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) in the poisoning of the prominent Russian opposition politician Alexey Navalny. Moreover, the August 2020 poisoning in the Siberian city of Tomsk appears to have happened after years of surveillance, which began in 2017 shortly after Navalny first announced his intention to run for president of Russia. Throughout 2017, and again in 2019 and 2020, FSB operatives from a clandestine unit specialized in working with poisonous substances shadowed Navalny during his trips across Russia, traveling alongside him on more than 30 overlapping flights to the same destinations. It is also possible there were earlier attempts to poison Navalny, including one in the Western Russian city of Kaliningrad only a month before the near-fatal Novichok poisoning in Siberia.

The Guardian: An undercover hit squad working for Russia’s FSB spy agency poisoned the opposition activist Alexei Navalny in August, after shadowing him on multiple previous trips, the investigative website Bellingcat has claimed. Citing “voluminous” telecoms and travel data, Bellingcat reported that the squad had secretly tracked Navalny since 2017. The operation apparently began after he announced plans to stand against Vladimir Putin in presidential elections. The FSB surveillance team followed him to more than 30 destinations on overlapping flights, Bellingcat said. It may have first tried to poison him in July this year, when Navalny travelled to Kaliningrad for a romantic break with his wife, Yulia, it suggested.

The Guardian: An investigation by Bellingcat identifies at least eight FSB operatives who were allegedly behind the poisoning in August of the Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny. The team shadowed Navalny on more than 30 trips, Bellingcat reported, citing phone and travel data. Three FSB officers followed Navalny to Novosibirsk. They then trailed him to the city of Tomsk, where, according to German doctors, he was poisoned with novichok. The officers are members of what is described as a clandestine FSB poisoning unit.

RFE/RL: Russian historian Yury Dmitriyev, who was sentenced to 13 years in prison on a controversial child sexual-abuse charge that he and his supporters have rejected as politically motivated, has been named among the recipients of the 2020 Franco-German Human Rights and the Rule of Law prize. The Moscow-based Memorial Human Rights Center said on December 14 that Dmitriyev was among 13 rights defenders who became laureates this year of the prize established in 2016 by the foreign ministries of France and Germany to honor individuals who have contributed to the defense of human rights in their countries and on an international level. Dmitriyev, 64, who is the head of the local branch of Memorial in the northwestern Russian region of Karelia, is currently on trial again, this time on a charge of producing child pornography, which he and his supporters also reject as politically motivated.

RFE/RL: The Moscow City Court has postponed the high-profile trial of several former police officers suspected in the illegal apprehension of investigative journalist Ivan Golunov last year after the lawyer of one of the defendants said he had lost his legal license. Aleksei Kovrizhkin, the lawyer of the former chief of the Moscow police’s illegal-drugs department, Igor Lyakhovets, told the court at the start of the trial on December 14 that the Moscow Chamber of Attorneys revoked his license to practice for unspecified reasons in October.

Human Rights in Ukraine: The Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court [ICC], Fatou Bensouda has found reasonable grounds for believing that war crimes and crimes against humanity, falling within ICC jurisdiction, “have been committed in the context of the situation in Ukraine”.  Such crimes, in connection with the conflict in Donbas and with Russia’s ongoing occupation of Crimea are sufficiently grave, she writes, to warrant investigation by the ICC.  This is a long-awaited, and very important, move, one that human rights groups have helped to achieve, by providing the Office of the Prosecutor with detailed information about enforced disappearances; torture and extrajudicial killings; Russia’s persecution of Crimean Tatars and other Ukrainians in occupied Crimea; its conscription and militarization and multiple other violations of international law.  They have also presented witness testimony and evidence of civilian targets in Donbas having been shelled from Russian territory; of civilians being used as human shields in occupied Crimea (and Donbas), and much more.  There is also, of course, ample proof that civilian airliner MH17 was downed by a Russian Buk missile which had been brought from a military unit in Kursk (Russia) and was hurriedly returned to Russia after the disaster that killed 298 people, including 80 children.

Amnesty International: On Friday 11 December, the International Criminal Court (ICC) Prosecutor announced that she has concluded her preliminary examination in Ukraine and will seek a full investigation into war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Ukraine.  These include murder and torture committed during the ‘EuroMaidan’ protests in 2013 - 2014, and war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by all sides to the conflict in eastern Ukraine since 2014, and in Crimea after the peninsula’s Russian occupation and illegal annexation in 2014.   

Human Rights in Ukraine: A Russian-occupation ‘court’ has found Venera Mustafayeva guilty of infringing regulations during the pandemic over her solitary picket on the day that her prisoner of conscience son, Server Mustafafayev was sentenced to 14 years’ imprisonment.  The ‘Bakhchysarai district court hearing’ on 11 December took place without the ‘accused’ or her lawyer, Lilya Hemedzhi, although both were present in the building. Venera Mustafayeva stood outside alone on 15 September 2020, with a placard reading “Conversations in a mosque are not a crime – bring back my son”.  She was nowhere near others, and even the repressive legislation that Russia is illegally imposing in occupied Crimea allows single-person pickets. 

RAPSI: Russian investigators brought charges against 3 Lithuanian judges with issuance of unjust ruling in a case over clashes in Vilnius in January 1991, the Investigative Committee’s spokesperson told RAPSI on Monday. The charges were laid in absentia. In late March, a panel of judges of the Vilnius District Court convicted and sentenced over 50 Russian citizens including those arrested in Lithuania as part of the case. Russian investigators believe that the 1991 events resulting in the death of 13 civilians and injuring of more than 700 people occurred with the participation of Soviet servicemen who carried out their duties and acted for safety in accordance with the USSR legislation. Lithuania declared independence from the Soviet Union on March 11, 1990.

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