News of the Day: 16 April 2021

The Guardian: The Moscow prosecutor’s office has announced that it will seek to designate Alexander Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation and his regional political headquarters as “extremist groups”, moving to in effect liquidate the jailed opposition leader’s political organisation in Russia. It is the most sweeping assault yet on supporters of Navalny, and comes after his two-and-a-half-year sentence on embezzlement charges and the arrest of his top aides on various charges following large protests in January and February. In a statement released on Friday evening, the law enforcement body said it was seeking the designation usually reserved for violent organisations such as al-Qaida or Aum Shinrikyo, because it believed Navalny’s organisations were “creating conditions for changing the foundations of the constitutional order, including through the scenario of a ‘coloured revolution’”.

The Moscow Times: A Moscow court has sentenced one of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny’s allies to two years in prison for two tweets critical of the Russian government, the Mediazona news website reported Thursday. Pavel Zelensky, a camera operator for Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK), was detained in January on charges of inciting extremism online. The accusations stem from anti-government tweets he posted after the self-immolation death of journalist Irina Slavina after police searches at her apartment in October.

RFE/RL: Jailed Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny said on April 16 that prison authorities have threatened to put him in a straitjacket to force-feed him unless he halts his hunger strike. Navalny, 44, announced a hunger strike at the end of last month in protest at what he said was the refusal of prison authorities to allow him to receive proper medical care for acute back and leg pain. In an Instagram post, Navalny said an official told him that blood tests showed his health was deteriorating and threatened to force-feed him if he continues his hunger strike. “And then she detailed the joys of force-feeding to me. Straitjacket and other pleasures,” the politician said, adding that he urged the officials not to do it, “pointing to a clause in the law.”

The Guardian: An investigation by Alexei Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) has revealed new details about another of Vladimir Putin’s alleged lavish residences, complete with stables, a golf course and an expansive spa complex that includes a cryo chamber. Using satellite and drone footage, company records, photographs and other data, investigators have released floor plans and some of the first photographs of an expanded residence near Valdai, which they said was the Russian president’s favourite and most secret. They claimed the residence was partly leased from one of Putin’s closest allies on taxpayer money. While some of the lakeside property is state-owned and designated for official use, a more lavish section with a mansion has been privately developed into what has been described as a playground for the health-conscious head of state. In particular, the investigation focuses on a 7,000 sq metre (75,000 sq ft) spa complex whose floor plans show a float pool, massage rooms, a swimming pool, and other amenities, such as an extreme-cold treatment cryotherapy chamber, that are rented from a company alleged to belong to one of Putin’s close friends.

Amnesty International: Chechen police abducted Magomed Gadaev, an asylum seeker from Chechnya, in the Russian Federation, and a key witness in a high-profile torture investigation against Chechnya’s authorities, two days after he was wrongfully deported from France to Russia on 9 April. Chechen police continue to hold him in custody. Twelve Russian and international human rights organizations said that Gadaev is at high risk of torture, as a result of the actions by the French, Russian and Chechen authorities which violated international human rights law.

Amnesty International: The Russian government must immediately stop the deportation of at least 17 Tajikistani nationals detained during a peaceful protest in Moscow on 2 April against the suspected rendition of a fellow countryman, Amnesty International said today. The detained Tajikistani nationals, mostly migrant workers, had taken part in peaceful protests against the forcible return to Tajikistan of Izzat Amon (also known as Izatullo Kholov), a prominent migrants’ rights activist, lawyer and the head of the Moscow-based human rights centre Tojikon. The protest took place in front of the Embassy of Tajikistan. “The Russian authorities must immediately stop helping their counterparts in Tajikistan to facilitate illegal forced returns. In the absence of due process individuals are denied their right to challenge their return, based upon a fear of persecution by the Tajikistani authorities due to their participation in peaceful protests,” said Maisy Weicherding, Amnesty International’s Central Asia Researcher.

The Moscow Times: German prosecutors said Friday they are investigating a Russian man on suspicion that he helped to plan the murder of a Chechen dissident living in Germany on orders of the Chechen regime. Named as Valid D., the suspect is accused of “making a declaration of readiness to commit murder, preparing a serious act of violence endangering the state and violating the weapons act,” prosecutors said. He was arrested in January and is in pre-trial detention.

The Moscow Times: Russia has asked migrants from post-Soviet states living there illegally to leave the country by June 15, the state-run RIA Novosti news agency reported Friday. In mid-December, President Vladimir Putin extended the residence status of foreign citizens living in Russia until June 15, 2021, due to the coronavirus pandemic. This covered migrants from Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) countries living in Russia without proper documentation.

RFE/RL: Prosecutors have asked a Moscow military court to sentence a former senior officer of Russia’s Federal Security Service to 11 years in prison after he and two others were caught with millions of dollars worth of cash in 2019. They also asked the Moscow Garrison Court on April 16 to fine Kirill Cherkalin 34 million rubles ($445,000), deprive him of his rank as colonel, and bar him from working in law enforcement structures. Cherkalin was arrested in April 2019, along with two other FSB officers, Dmitry Frolov and Andrei Vasilyev, on charges of bribe-taking and fraud.

The Guardian: Michael Bourdeaux, who has died aged 87, founded Keston College in Bromley, south-east London, in 1969 as a centre for the study and dissemination of reliable information about religion in communist countries. He described the college in his memoirs as “my concept”, and poured into it his “energy and commitment over a period of 30 years”. It was an organisation that rattled the Soviet authorities; indeed Oleg Gordievsky, the Soviet double agent who once worked for the KGB and escaped to the west in the boot of a car, claimed at a Keston AGM that it was No 2 in the hierarchy of KGB hates, the first being Amnesty International. Why was Keston so disliked? It uncovered unpalatable facts about the true situation of religious believers behind the iron curtain, and it demolished the communist propaganda that there was freedom of conscience in its “brave new world”. The fact that religion persisted undermined party teaching as propounded by leaders such as Nikita Khrushchev, whose 1961 party programme promised that communism would be achieved in 20 years and religion would fade away.

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