News of the Day: 17 March 2021

The Guardian: Supporters of the jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny face the prospect of indefinite house arrest, in what campaigners say is an attempt by the Kremlin to “shut down” anti-government protests. Ten prominent activists have been under house arrest for the past two months, including two members of Pussy Riot, Masha Alekhina and Lucy Shtein,as well as Navalny’s brother Oleg, and Lyubov Sobola lawyer with the opposition leader’s Anti-Corruption Foundation. They are accused of violating coronavirus restrictions by calling on Russians to take to the streets. More than 10,000 people were arrested in January, during pro-Navalny rallies that took place in 180 towns and cities across Russia. The protests were the biggest for a decade. Alekhina’s case is due to be heard on Thursday in Moscow’s Basmanny district court. She has been unable to leave her flat, meet other people, visit the doctor or use the internet. Police have confiscated her passport. Her house arrest is due to be extended until 23 June and she faces up to two years in prison.

Human Rights in Ukraine: The first day of Russia’s ‘trial’ of Crimean Tatar journalist Remzi Bekirov and four other civic and human rights activists ended with all five recognized political prisoners being expelled from the court for insisting on their right to speak Crimean Tatar.  This, however, was after Rayim Aivazov described in harrowing detail how FSB officers had taken him to a forest and tortured him, including by staging a mock execution, in order to force him to give false testimony against himself and other political prisoners.  

The Moscow Times: The United States has expanded its export restrictions to Russia as part of sanctions over the poisoning of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, the Commerce Department announced Wednesday. The department said that, starting Thursday, its Bureau of Industry and Security will review Russia-bound national security items “under a presumption of denial for exports and re-exports.” 

RFE/RL: The United States has expanded restrictions imposed on Russian experts that were imposed earlier this month as punishment for the poisoning of opposition leader Aleksei Navalny. The U.S. Commerce Department said that the new measures which come into effect on March 18 will prevent the sale to Russia of more items controlled for national-security reasons. Such items will include technology, software, and parts. “By deploying illegal nerve agents against dissidents, both inside and outside its borders, the Russian government has acted in flagrant violation of its commitments under the Chemical Weapons Convention and has directly put its own citizens and those of other countries at mortal risk,” the Commerce Department said in a statement. “The Department of Commerce is committed to preventing Russia from accessing sensitive U.S .technologies that might be diverted to its malign chemical weapons activities,” it said. The statement did not give details of the goods covered by the expansion of the measure, first announced on March 2, when the United States also froze assets in the United States of seven senior Russian officials, including Federal Security Service (FSB) chief Aleksandr Bortnikov.

RFE/RL: EU ambassadors have given the green light to sanctions against two Chechen officials accused of involvement in the repression of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people in Chechnya and other individuals suspected of being opponents of the Moscow-backed leader of Russia’s North Caucasus region, Ramzan Kadyrov. Several EU sources told RFE/RL on March 17 under condition of anonymity that Abuzayed Vismuradov and Ayub Katayev were targeted with asset freezes and visa bans under the EU’s new human rights sanctions regime that came into effect in December. The move is set to enter into force during a meeting of EU foreign ministers on March 22.

RFE/RL: MBK Media says Russia’s state media-monitoring agency, Roskomnadzor, has demanded Twitter delete the news outlet’s account for alleged violations of Russian law. MBK Media, a news website critical of the Kremlin, on March 17 quoted a message it says came from Roskomnadzor as saying the social-network operator had received an official request regarding content on the @MBKhMedia account. Twitter has not commented on the report.

RFE/RL: The lower house of Russia’s parliament has adopted legislation that would introduce sentences of up to five years in prison for insulting World War II veterans. The proposed amendments to the Criminal and Administrative Codes, which were passed in the State Duma on March 17, also envisage fines of up to 5 million rubles ($68,000) for entities or individuals convicted of the “public dissemination of knowingly false information” about WWII veterans. The chamber said that publicly humiliating the dignity or honor of veterans would be “equated with the rehabilitation of Nazism,” which would also carry a punishment of up to five years in prison.

RFE/RL: Journalism watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has condemned Russia for imposing “exorbitant” fines on several Russian-language services of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, saying the country’s “foreign agent” law was “absurd” and “designed to silence” independent and opposition media in the country. Russia’s state media-monitoring agency Roskomnadzor has opened 260 cases against RFE/RL Russian-language news services for failing to mark written and broadcast materials in accordance with the onerous regulations. A Moscow court has already levied fines totaling some $1 million in 142 cases. The string of cases against RFE/RL means that, pending appeals, it must pay the fines and come into compliance with regulations or face the potential closure of its operations inside Russia.

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