News of the Day: 17 February 2021

The Guardian: The European court of human rights has told Russia to free Alexei Navalny, prompting a new standoff between Europe and Moscow over the fate of Vladimir Putin’s staunchest critic. Russia has said it will ignore the ruling despite a requirement to comply as a member of the Council of Europe, calling the court’s decision “blatant and gross interference in the judicial affairs of a sovereign state”. In a ruling published on Wednesday, the Strasbourg-based court granted Navalny a temporary release from jail because it said the government “could not provide sufficient safeguards for his life and health”. Navalny was the victim in August of a suspected FSB poisoning, which he claims was ordered by Putin, and has said his life is in danger in custody. He has been sentenced to spend the next two and a half years in prison for violating parole from a 2014 sentence and is facing further jail time as the government presses new charges. The decision was made regarding the terms of Navalny’s confinement, the court noted, and was not a reversal of the 2014 embezzlement conviction against Navalny, which was widely seen as politically motivated. He is due in court to appeal against the decision this week. A copy of the judgment posted online said Navalny should be released “with immediate effect”.

Human Rights in Ukraine: A Russian cassation court has ignored glaring infringements of the right to a fair trial and upheld a 13-year sentence against world-renowned historian and head of the Karelia Memorial Society, Yury Dmitriev [on 16 February 2021].  This is a virtual death sentence, given the 65-year-old’s age and state of health, and may not be all since a third attempt to get a conviction on the charges first used to imprison him, following an unprecedented two acquittals, will now go ahead.  The political nature of this case has been clear since Dmitriev’s arrest in December 2016, and was effectively confirmed by the presence in the court building of consuls from six EU member-states (Germany; Poland; the Czech Republic; Lithuania; Estonia and Latvia).  There is one more avenue before this case ends up before the European Court of Human Rights and Dmitriev’s lawyer, Viktor Anufriev has confirmed that an appeal will be lodged with the Russian Supreme Court.  “Considering both the information background after the second acquittal, when the foreign ministry gathered together representatives of the EU and ambassadors, and what was shown on federal television channels, this was basically pressure on the court.”   The prosecution used such measures, Anufriev adds, and at federal level, to try to prove that the extraordinary 10-year increase in sentence, were justified, whereas the charges were totally baseless and fabricated.

Front Line Defenders: On 15 February human right defender and member of the United Group of Civic Observers Vyacheslav Slusarev was charged with participating in an unauthorised protest and was fined 10,000 roubles (approximately 100 euro). The human rights defender had been monitoring the protest in support of Alexei Navalny in Syktyvkar. Vyacheslav Slusarev is an LGBTIQ+ rights defender, board member of the regional branch of the Russian Historical, Educational and Human Rights Society Memorial and a member of the United Group of Civic Observers (OGON). The OGON is a public association operating on the basis of norms of international human rights law and conducts human rights monitoring of public events, trials and the work of the law enforcement. Vyacheslav Slusarev is well known for developing an observation mechanism for semi-closed social facilities such as psycho-neurological boarding schools, facilities for persons with disabilities and elderly people, which has been used in other regions of Russia.

CPJ: Russian authorities should investigate the nonconsensual release of journalist Elena Solovyova’s financial information online and ensure that the perpetrators are held to account, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. In several posts on February 4 and 10, the anonymous Telegram channel “Komi-Telega,” which has over 6,000 subscribers, published copies of Solovyova’s tax forms for work she did as a reporter for a number of media outlets, including U.S. Congress-funded broadcaster Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and Russian independent news website 7×7, and a copy of her work contract with RFE/RL, according to Solovyova, who spoke with CPJ in a phone interview, a Facebook post by the journalist, and the Telegram posts, which CPJ reviewed. The posts called Solovyova, a freelance reporter based in the northwestern city of Syktyvkar in the Russian republic of Komi, a “foreign agent” and “parasite” involved in “dark financial deeds.” On February 13, the account posted that it would publish “more revelations” about the journalist. “Komi-Telega” frequently posts criticism of independent journalists and human rights activists, alleging that they have sold out to the West, according to CPJ’s review of the account.

RFE/RL: Russian authorities have detained several Crimean Tatar activists after their homes were searched in Ukraine’s Russian-controlled Crimea region. The Crimean Solidarity group told RFE/RL on February 17 that the searches were conducted at the homes of Abdulbori Makhamadaminov, Azamat Eyupov, Timur Yalkabov, Ernest Ibragimov, Oleh Fyodorov, Lenur Seydametov, and Yashar Shikhametov in different towns and cities across Crimea. The official reason for the searches remains unclear. Ukrainian Ombudswoman Lyudmyla Denisova said in a statement that all of the men were taken to the FSB’s directorate in Crimea after the searches.

RFE/RL: Russian authorities have detained and placed under house arrest a Jehovah’s Witness in Siberia amid a continued crackdown on the religious group, which was labeled as extremist and banned in the country in 2017. The Investigative Committee said in a statement on February 17 that a 53-year-old resident of the town of Belovo in the Kemerovo region was placed under house arrest on suspicion of organizing a Jehovah’s Witnesses “cell.”

RFE/RL: Last week’s court hearing in the northern city of Syktyvkar was supposed to be a routine preliminary session: the initial appearance of Aleksei Ivanov, charged with attending an unauthorized rally in support of jailed opposition activist Aleksei Navalny. Things got interesting when the judge started asking him questions in Russian — and Ivanov, who speaks Russian fluently, opted instead to answer in his native language, Komi. “Do you have a Russian passport?” she yells at him in Russian, according to an audio recording of the proceeding. “You live in Russia! You studied at a Russian school!” “We live in the Komi Republic. There are two state languages here: Komi and Russian,” he replies in Komi.

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