News of the Day: 16 June 2021

The Guardian: Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin have concluded their talks in Geneva after a highly anticipated summit meant to prevent the two countries’ rivalry from descending into open conflict.

RFE/RL: The Russian parliament’s lower chamber, the State Duma, has approved the third and final reading of a bill that would criminalize participation in the activities of foreign or international NGOs declared “undesirable” in Russia. Under the bill approved on June 16, individuals may face up to six years in prison if found guilty of organizing operations of “undesirable” international organizations on Russian territory.

RFE/RL: During their summit in Geneva on June 16, U.S. President Joe Biden raised the issue of Kremlin pressure against RFE/RL’s Russian-language services in Russia with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The United States has accused Russia of attempting to drive RFE/RL out of the country by listing it as a “foreign agent” media organization and imposing fines against it for failing to comply with requirements that all its materials be prominently labeled. “I also raised the ability of Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty to operate and the importance of a free press and freedom of speech,” Biden said at his press conference in Geneva when listing some of the issues the two leaders discussed. The same day, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) agreed to hear an appeal by RFE/RL against the Russian government over the “foreign agent” label and the labelling requirements.

HRW: For about six months before 22-year-old Khalimat Taramova fled Chechnya on June 4, her family kept the young woman, who identifies as bisexual, under lock and key. They beat and verbally abused her and forced her to undergo so-called conversion therapy. In May, Taramova reached out to a prominent LGBT rights group begging them to help her reach safety. They promised to help but said it would take some time. Taramova couldn’t bear the abuse anymore. A friend who feared for Taramova’s life took her to Marem shelter for battered women, in Makhachkala, in neighboring Dagestan.  On the advice of the activists running the shelter, Taramova recorded a video saying she had left Chechnya voluntarily because of abuse and sent it to Chechen authorities.

Civil Rights Defenders: This month, the St. Petersburg based initiative group – Coming Out – launched its third annual report on the situation for LGBTI+ persons living in Russia’s second largest city. The group surveyed over 1,225 members of the LGBTI+ community in 2020 to assess issues and challenges they face. 

RSF: The Moscow-based independent news website VTimes opted to go out of business a month after being added to Russia’s mandatory “foreign agents” register. In the run-up to parliamentary elections, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) warns that the draconian “foreign agents” law is steadily killing off the country’s independent media and calls on Vladimir Putin to repeal it at once.

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