News of the Day: 16 February 2021

RFE/RL: Russian news agencies said a court has rejected an appeal by gulag historian Yuri Dmitriyev, who was sentenced to 13 years in prison after being found guilty of sexually abusing his daughter. TASS and RIA Novosti reported that the St. Petersburg appeals court on February 16 dismissed the request by Dmitriyev, who has said the charges brought by prosecutors were based on fabricated evidence. Dmitriyev, 65, was arrested on child-pornography charges in 2016 based on photographs of his foster daughter that authorities found on his computer. He said the images were not pornographic and were made at the request of social workers concerned about the child’s physical development. Last July, he was found guilty, and he was scheduled to be freed in November due to time served. But a court in the northwestern Karelia region, where Dmitriyev lives, abruptly added a decade to his sentence and ordered him held in a high-security prison. Dmitriyev’s historical work has focused on exposing the victims of the 1937-38 Great Terror, in which nearly 700,000 people were executed.

Meduza: On Tuesday, February 16, St. Petersburg’s Third Court of Cassation allowed the 13-year prison sentence given to historian and activist Yuri Dmitriev to stand. Following this ruling, the investigative outlet Proekt released a report connecting Yuri Dmitriev’s persecution to presidential aide Anatoly Seryshev — the former head of the Karelian FSB.

RFE/RL: Aleksei Navalny returned to a Moscow courtroom where the opposition activist and Kremlin critic is on trial for charges of slandering a World War II veteran. The February 16 proceedings were the latest development in an effort that Navalny and his allies say is a politically motivated campaign aimed solely at keeping him behind bars. Earlier this month, Navalny was ordered to prison for nearly 3 years after a judge ruled he had violated parole while he was recuperating in Germany from a near-fatal nerve-agent poisoning.

The Guardian: Russian state prosecutors has asked a court to fine the Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny 950,000 roubles (£9,300) for slandering a second world war veteran, a charge he calls politically motivated. President Vladimir Putin’s most prominent critic was jailed this month for almost three years for parole violations he said were trumped up. The west has condemned the case and is discussing possible sanctions on Russia. The judge said the verdict would be announced on Saturday – the same day that Navalny is due to appeal against his imprisonment.

The Moscow Times: Russian academics are warning that lawmakers seek to curb their freedoms with a new law that would require state permission for public outreach, the weekly journal Nature reported Monday. Amendments to Russia’s education law advancing through the lower house of parliament, the State Duma, seek to stamp out “anti-Russian” influence in educational activities outside formal settings. Observers caution that government control could expand to online courses on YouTube, podcasts and popular lectures. Nearly 220,000 people have signed a petition calling for the repeal of what it describes as restrictive amendments, while almost 1,700 Rusian academics have signed on to a declaration defying them. Prominent educators and the presidium of the Russian Academy of Sciences have urged lawmakers to repeal the measures they described as “prior restraint.”

The Christian Science Monitor: Being labeled a “foreign agent” by the Kremlin has historically been a terrible stigma in Russia. But ask Lev Ponomaryov, one of the first Russians to be individually branded as such under a newly amended law, how it affects him, and he simply laughs. “For me, it’s a badge of honor,” says the Soviet-era democracy activist, former parliamentarian, and staunch critic of the Kremlin. “Those who know me and my work take it humorously, or congratulate me on my new title. But for people who do not know me or are not interested in human rights, it seems that the first thing they ever hear about me is that I’m a foreign agent. I don’t like that.”

RFE/RL: Russian parliament’s lower chamber, the State Duma, has approved in the last reading a bill that envisages fines for those violating the country’s controversial law on “foreign agents.” First passed in 2012 and expanded several times since, the law gives authorities the power to brand nongovernmental organizations, human rights groups, news media, and individuals working for organizations deemed to receive foreign funding for political activity as a “foreign agent,” a label that carries pejorative Soviet-era connotations. The law subjects these organizations and individuals to bureaucratic scrutiny and spot checks and requires them to attach the “foreign agent” label to their publications. They must also report on their spending and funding. According to the bill approved by lawmakers on February 16, failure to attach the “foreign agent” label could lead to fines of up to 2,500 rubles ($34) for individuals and up to 500,000 rubles ($6,800) for entities. In addition, organizations branded as “foreign agents” and working without being registered as such could face fines of up to 5 million rubles ($68,000).

Meduza: Jailed Mediazona editor-in-chief Sergey Smirnov has filed an appeal with the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), reports the rights organization Apologia Protesta. This comes after a Russian court sentenced him to 25 days administrative arrest for reposting a joke on Twitter. Smirnov’s complaint states that in their handling of his case, the Russian authorities violated several articles of the European Convention on Human Rights — including the right to personal security, the right to a fair trial and punishment based solely on the law, and the right to freedom of expression and assembly, among others.  In addition, the appeal refers to the “inhumane conditions” Smirnov is being subjected to while in detention and the violation of his right to appeal against the immediate enforcement of administrative arrest.

RFE/RL: Sergei Petrochenko’s family spent the early morning hours of January 28 frantically calling hospitals and morgues [in Tomsk]. Petrochenko was supposed to arrive home from a construction job before midnight the previous night, but he had disappeared without a trace. The family’s uncertainty continued until shortly after 6 a.m., when Petrochenko himself called from an unfamiliar number. In a short conversation, he was able to tell his wife, Nellya, that he was in police custody, that he had been beaten up, and that his car was damaged and left by the side of the road. […] At a court hearing on January 29, Petrochenko was found guilty of the administrative offense of disobeying a law enforcement officer. The court acknowledged that Petrochenko had been detained mistakenly by officers of the National Guard. Nonetheless, it ruled that he had “hindered them in the execution of their duties.”

The Moscow Times: Russian security forces have taught Siberian schoolchildren how to detain protesters in a simulated riot, according to video published by local television Tuesday.  The footage comes on the heels of a mass protest crackdown during rallies calling for jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s arrest. More than 10,000 were detained nationwide during those protests, with widespread allegations of police brutality against peaceful demonstrators.

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