News of the Day: 15 December 2020

RFE/RL: U.S. authorities investigated a Russian opposition activist’s two near-fatal illnesses as “intentional” poisonings, according to newly obtained government records that also show U.S. doctors and scientists mulled the possibility that he was targeted with a biotoxin or a radioactive substance. The U.S. Justice Department documents, reviewed exclusively by RFE/RL, provide more glimpses into several years of deliberations by the FBI as it sought to determine why Vladimir Kara-Murza fell suddenly ill on two separate occasions in Moscow over the course of two years. The records are among several tranches of documents the Justice Department has handed over to Kara-Murza in response to his legal quest to find out exactly what the U.S. government knows about the cause of his severe illnesses in 2015 and 2017.

RFE/RL: Russian state media have been slow to react to a detailed investigation reportedly showing that Kremlin critic Aleksei Navalny was poisoned by members of the Federal Security Service (FSB), raising questions about whether authorities have been caught off guard. Bellingcat said in its December 14 report that it had used “voluminous evidence in the form of telecoms and travel data” to conclude that Navalny was poisoned by operatives from the FSB, the successor to the KGB, during his trip to the Siberian city of Tomsk in August. The British-based open-source research group, with the help of several media outlets, including The Insider, a Russian investigative website, Der Spiegel, and CNN, published the names and photos of the FSB operatives taking part in the poisoning operation as well as a timeline of events.

HRW: Last week, Russian media reported a major personal data leak of Covid-19 patients admitted to Moscow hospitals, as well as Muscovites who had been ordered to self-quarantine, or fined over violating the self-quarantine regulations. According to the online news outlet Readovka, the leaked data included names, home addresses, insurance numbers, phone numbers and medical data of up to 300,000 people. Most of the information, collected by Moscow authorities, dates to spring 2020, but some is as recent as November. The data, which is stored on online spreadsheets, were circulated via Telegram, a popular messaging app, and can be downloaded without any special authorization. According to the outlet, the leaked spreadsheets got deleted from Telegram.  Moscow Department of Information Technology confirmed the personal data leak alleging that unidentified staff leaked the information. Authorities promised to take action and an official inquiry is on-going.

The Moscow Times: Russians have some of the world’s most conservative attitudes toward gender roles, according to a multinational survey spanning 10 countries. The GlobalNR research network and its Russian partner ROMIR found that 82% of Chinese respondents, 71% of Russians and 69% of Indians agreed with the statement that traditional gender roles are best suited for society. The global average stood at 47%.

RAPSI:  A bill introducing prison sentence as punishment for online defamation has reached the State Duma. The draft law envisages imprisonment for up to 2 years for folk leasing.  Current legislation stipulates fines of up to 1 million rubles (about $14,000 at the current exchange rate) or community service for up to 40 hours for defamation in media or public speech.

RAPSI: Chairman of Russia’s Presidential Council for Human Rights Valery Fadeyev believes that authors of defaming publications on the Internet must be punished with a fine but not with imprisonment. According to Fadeyev, prison sentence in such cases is an excessive measure. Earlier, a bill introducing prison sentence as punishment for online defamation was submitted to the State Duma. The draft law envisages imprisonment for up to 2 years for folk leasing. 

RAPSI:  Prosecutors have filed a motion seeking an 18-year jail sentence for ex-board member of Inter RAO energy holding Karina Tsurkan charged with spying, the Moscow City Court’s press service has told RAPSI. Investigators believe that in August 2004 Tsurkan became an agent involved in confidential and unofficial cooperation with a Moldovan secret service.

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