News of the Day: 15 March 2021

RFE/RL: Opposition politician Aleksei Navalny has confirmed his relocation to a notorious penitentiary in the city of Pokrov, likening the institution to “a friendly concentration camp.” In a sometimes lighthearted post on Instagram on March 15, Navalny said he was fine after his move three days earlier to the IK-2 prison, noting his daily routine, like that of the other prisoners, was guided by the “literal fulfillment of endless rules.”

The Moscow Times: Jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny has been moved to the IK-2 penal colony in the Vladimir region to serve his two-and-a-half year sentence, he confirmed Monday. Navalny’s whereabouts had been unknown since Friday, when his team said he was moved from a pre-trial detention center outside Moscow where he was being quarantined. Reports citing prison and law enforcement sources said he was transferred to IK-2, a prison camp in the town of Pokrov notorious for psychological isolation and harsh conditions. In an Instagram post, Navalny confirmed that he had been moved to IK-2, calling it “a real concentration camp 100 kilometers from Moscow.”

The Guardian: The Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny is being held in a prison camp in the Vladimir region of Russia north-east of Moscow known for its strict control of inmates, a message posted on the opposition politician’s Instagram account confirmed on Monday. Navalny’s precise location had been unknown after his legal team said last week that he had been moved from the nearby Kolchugino jail and that they had not been told where he was being taken. “I have to admit that the Russian prison system was able to surprise me,” Navalny posted on Instagram along with an old photo of himself with a close-cropped haircut. “I had no idea that it was possible to arrange a real concentration camp 100km from Moscow.” Navalny added that he was in Penal Colony No 2 in the town of Pokrov, Vladimir, with a “freshly shaven head”.

Amnesty International: This statement is made on behalf of 8 organisations, who together call on the Human Rights Council to address the human rights situation in the Russian Federation. Our organisations condemn the arbitrary prohibition and violent dispersal of the overwhelmingly peaceful protests demanding the release of opposition activist Aleksei Navalny, and ending corruption. Since Navalny’s return to the Russian Federation and the mass protests that ensued, human rights organisations have documented the arbitrary detention of at least 11,000 individuals in more than 125 Russian cities, at least 150 of whom are journalists. At least 140 protesters were beaten in detention. 90 face criminal charges.

Human Rights Watch: The joint statements on Egypt and on Russia, delivered under item 4 by large cross-regional groups of states, bring much-needed attention to the rapidly deteriorating situation in these countries. […] In Russia, the detention of thousands of peaceful protesters following the arrest and sentencing of opposition activist Alexey Navalny constitute only the tip of the iceberg of Russia’s deepening crackdown on media, critics and civil society. In today’s Russia, a wave of new, repressive laws further restricted freedom of expression, assembly and association. They aim to demonize, marginalize, and ultimately penalize independent groups and voices. Several Russian activists have in recent months been criminally charged, fined, sentenced, or faced house-arrest under flawed laws, such as the law on “undesirable foreign organizations.” In December and January, new amendments drastically expanded the scope of the toxic “foreign agents” designation – extending it to almost any independent voice. These new measures risk dealing an especially crushing blow to an already severely restricted civil society. The Council should maintain – and strengthen – its scrutiny of these two countries until these concerns are addressed in full.

RFE/RL:  Journalists in Russia’s Far Eastern city of Khabarovsk, where demonstrations in support of the region’s jailed former governor have been held since July last year, have started so-called “silent broadcasts” to avoid prosecution. Many journalists in Khabarovsk were detained while covering the protests in recent months, although they say they had all of the documents needed to prove that they were doing their jobs. Some were either fined or jailed for several days for what local courts judged as the “participation in unsanctioned rallies.” Tatyana Khlestunova, a reporter at Prosto Gazeta (Just A Newspaper) who spent several days in jail over her coverage of the rallies, told RFE/RL over the weekend that the silent broadcast entails coverage of rallies without any commentary from reporters.

RFE/RL: The independent Russian investigative newspaper Novaya gazeta says it believes the entrance to the building in Moscow that houses its offices has been targeted in a “chemical attack.” The periodical, which shares the premises with several other companies, said on March 15 that there was a strong chemical odor in the building detected by all employees and visitors to the newspaper’s offices. Officials and teams from the Emergency Situations Ministry, Interior Ministry, and the Federal Security Service are at the site and working to find the source of the smell, the newspaper said. So far, there has been no official confirmation of any chemical substance in the building. Novaya gazeta’s staff members say that the odor is very similar to one that was present when the home and car of correspondent Yulia Latynina was sprinkled with an unknown chemical in 2017.

The Moscow Times: The investigative Novaya Gazeta newspaper on Monday has published a former Chechen police officer’s testimony to the extrajudicial killings of dozens of detainees four years ago. The account of Suleiman Gezmakhmayev, a former staff sergeant of the Akhmad Kadyrov Police Patrol Service Regiment, adds damning evidence to Novaya’s investigations claiming that Chechen security officials executed 27 of more than 100 people detained in late 2016 and early 2017 anti-terror raids. Gezmakhmayev said he had taken part in detaining and guarding at least 56 detainees in the basement of the Kadyrov Regiment gymnasium. They were subjected to starvation, electrocution and beatings with hoses, according to Gezmakhayev.  Novaya reported that an oversight inspection initiated at its request had examined every Kadyrov Regiment building except for the gymnasium. Citing his friend and fellow sergeant Suleiman Saraliyev, Gezmakhmayev said 13 so-called militant commanders — whose names appeared on Novaya Gazeta’s list of victims — had been executed at the Kadyrov Regiment barracks. “He [Saraliyev] said the first one or two ‘amirs’ had been shot, after which the regiment commander said it was better not to stain the room with blood,” Gezmakhmayev said. “So the other ‘amirs’ were strangled with a sports rope,” Novaya quoted Gezmakhmayev’s written testimony as saying. Saraliyev was later accused of homosexual ties and killed in March 2017, Gezmakhmayev said.

RFE/RL: Three nongovernmental organizations based in France, Syria, and Russia have announced a legal case in Moscow against the Vagner Group, a Russian military contractor with indirect ties to the country’s political elite, over the 2017 torture of a detainee in Syria. “This litigation is a first-ever attempt by the family of a Syrian victim to hold Russian suspects accountable for serious crimes committed in Syria,” the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression, and the Moscow-based Memorial Human Rights Center said in a joint statement on March 15.

Human Rights Watch: On March 13, police raided the first federal forum of municipal deputies in Moscow, arresting almost 200 attendees and charging them with the administrative offence of participation in activities of “undesirable organizations.” It marked the largest number of people hit with “undesirable” charges in a single day since the “undesirable organizations” law was adopted in 2015. The purpose of the forum, organized by the United Democrats, was to exchange best practices and skills for running election campaigns and working with grassroot candidates. Russia’s repressive “undesirable foreign organizations law” bans foreign groups that authorities claim threaten Russia’s national security. Anyone deemed to be involved with one faces administrative and–if convicted of more than two offences in one year– criminal penalties.

Amnesty International: On 3 March, the Nizhnii Novgorod Regional Court, in Central Russia, upheld the decision to detain activist Mikhail Iosilevich. He is accused of cooperation with an “undesirable” organisation, Open Russia, a “crime” punishable by up to six years in prison. Mikhail Iosilevich is being targeted for peacefully exercising his rights to freedom of expression and association. Charges against him must be dropped and he must be immediately released.

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