News of the Day: 18 December 2020

The Moscow Times: Moscow prosecutors have requested a three-year jail sentence for opposition municipal deputy Yulia Galyamina for multiple violations of Russian protest law, Galyamina said Friday. Galyamina was arrested alongside 140 others this summer for rallying against a package of constitutional amendments which among other changes pave the way for President Vladimir Putin to stay in power until 2036. Six months earlier, courts had fined Galyamina for taking part in the summer 2019 street protests over local elections.

The Moscow Times: Leading Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny said German prosecutors interrogated him and his wife at Moscow’s request Thursday despite Russian authorities refusing to launch a criminal investigation into his poisoning. Navalny is undergoing rehabilitation in Berlin after recovering from what European scientists established was poisoning with a Novichok nerve agent in Siberia this summer. Russia has insisted that Germany provide hard evidence of the poisoning, which it denies, before it opens a criminal probe.

RFE/RL: Seven local lawmakers of the Siberian city of Tomsk have called on Russia’s Investigative Committee to launch a probe into the nerve-agent poisoning in August of Russian opposition politician Aleksei Navalny. The city legislators said in an official letter to the Investigative Committee that they are concerned about the possible use of “a chemical poison in our city…with the state’s participation.” The letter was made public on December 17 in a Twitter post by Tomsk City Duma member Ksenia Fadeyeva. The letter says data collected by independent investigative journalists, as well as the conclusions of experts at European laboratories who tested medical samples from Navalny, provide enough evidence to launch an investigation.

Human Rights in Ukraine: It may be unclear who ordered the recent surge in ‘police raids, visitations and ‘prophylactic chats’ in Russian-occupied Crimea, but there is certainly no doubt as to who is being targeted and why.  This is a deliberate offensive against Crimean Tatars and ethnic Ukrainians married to Crimean Tatars with a particular focus on Crimean Tatar activists who have taken part in peaceful protests in defence of political prisoners.  The scale of the visitations suggests that this is not just some local police department trying to improve its statistics on ‘countering extremism’ before the end of the year, but aimed at maximum intimidation.  Many imprisoned Crimean Tatar civic journalists and activists were, after all, first subjected to varying forms of administrative prosecution and harassment before the FSB decided to ensure their silence through arrests and ‘terrorism’ charges.

RFE/RL: Notorious organized crime boss Levan Abuladze — known in the criminal underworld by the nickname Levan Sukhumsky — has reportedly escaped from a Russian court building where he had been brought for a pretrial hearing. Russian media reports quote police sources in the city of Vladimir, about 200 kilometers east of Moscow, as saying that Abuladze’s handcuffs were removed inside the Oktyabr District Court building shortly before his December 16 hearing so that he could use a toilet. The police sources said Abuladze went missing after going into the toilet and that guards have been unable to find him.

The Moscow Times: European home improvement stores continued to sell illegally logged wood from the Russian taiga after the alleged smuggler’s arrest back home, the British environmental nonprofit Earthsight said in a report Wednesday. More than 20 European companies were said to have bought 30 million euros ($36.7 million) worth of suspect wood from companies associated with timber magnate Alexander Pudovkin between January 2015 and April 2020. 

RAPSI: The Presidential Council for Human Rights has requested the Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN) to mitigate detention and prison conditions during the coronavirus pandemic, according to the advisory body’s member Eva Merkacheva. In particular, the Council members seek for permit detainees and inmates to wash themselves twice a week. According to the penitentiary standing order, currently, jailed men are allowed to wash once a week, while women may do it twice a week, she said during a news conference on the Council’s work results in 2020 on Friday.  FSIN also was asked to give detainees and prisoners vitamins on a free basis. Moreover, rights advocates asked for videoconference meetings of jailed persons with their relatives.

Meduza: On Friday, December 18, Moscow’s Tverskoy District Court held deliberations on the case of Moscow City Duma deputy Yulia Galyamina, who is facing criminal charges for repeatedly violating the “rules on conducting public events.” Galyamina, who is also a lecturer at Moscow’s Higher School of Economics (HSE), became the subject of a criminal case due to her involvement in an unauthorized protest opposing amendments to the Russian constitution on July 15, 2020 (law enforcement officers arrested more than 100 people at the demonstration). She was also fined several times for taking part in protests ahead of the Moscow City Duma elections during the summer of 2019. State prosecutors are now seeking a three year prison sentence for the Moscow lawmaker. Here is the final statement that Yulia Galyamina made in court today.

Meduza: On December 14, 2020, Russian opposition figure Alexey Navalny published a video on YouTube, titled “I Know Everyone Who Tried to Kill Me,” where he named the Federal Security Service agents he says are responsible for poisoning him in Tomsk on August 20. Navalny attributed the discovery to Christo Grozev, Bellingcat’s “chief and very cool investigator from Bulgaria,” who recently contacted him with the message: “You know, I think we’ve found the people who tried to kill you.” Navalny’s own Anti-Corruption Foundation then joined the investigation, retracing Grozev’s steps and verifying his findings. Meduza special correspondent Liliya Yapparova spoke to Grozev about how he managed to track down a “secret and completely separate” group inside the FSB, why he’s certain these men are responsible for the attempt on Navalny’s life, and what he expects next in this story.

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