News of the Day: 18 February 2021

The Moscow Times: Europe’s rights court told Russia on Wednesday to release jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny out of concern for his life, but Moscow swiftly rejected the call. […] Navalny, 44, appealed to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) for his release on Jan. 20, just days after his arrest at a Moscow airport, saying his life was in danger if he remained in custody. The Strasbourg-based court said Wednesday it had upheld that request and told Moscow to release Navalny “with immediate effect.”  It said that the ruling was taken with “regard to the nature and extent of risk to the applicant’s life.” […] But shortly after the court made its decision public, Russia’s justice ministry said its demands were “unreasonable and unlawful” and there were no legal grounds to release Navalny.  Justice Minister Konstantin Chuychenko told the Interfax news agency that the ECHR demands represented “clear and gross interference” in the activities of Russia’s justice system. According to constitutional changes introduced in Russia last year, decisions enforced by international treaties may not be executed if they contradict Russia’s basic law.  Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova on Wednesday accused the ECHR of “pressure” on Russia and “interference” in its domestic affairs.

The Moscow Times: Russia is likely to ignore the European rights court’s demand for the immediate release of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny, legal experts said as Moscow categorically rejected the calls. Navalny, 44, appealed to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) for his release on Jan. 20, days after his arrest at a Moscow airport. The Strasbourg-based court said Wednesday it had upheld that request, which was motivated by claims that Navalny’s life was in danger if he remained in custody, and told Moscow to release the Kremlin critic “with immediate effect.” […] Legal experts are unanimous in that the ECHR cannot force Russia to comply with its ruling. Russia’s justice minister himself pointed to constitutional changes introduced last year that ban the execution of international treaties if they contradict Russia’s basic law. […] But Sergei Golubok, who represents Russian plaintiffs at the ECHR, maintained that Russia must abide by the demand “as a requirement of both international and Russian law.” “Attempts to find justifications for ignoring this decision are outside the legal plane,” Golubok told the news website, echoing comments made earlier by Navalny’s senior allies when news of the ECHR ruling broke. 

RFE/RL: Russian activist Anastasia Shevchenko has been handed a four-year suspended sentence for carrying out activities on behalf of an “undesirable organization,” in what Amnesty International has called a “travesty of justice.” A judge for the October district court in the city of Rostov-on-Don on February 18 found Shevchenko guilty of having links with the opposition group Open Russia, a British-based organization founded by exiled former oil tycoon and Kremlin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Shevchenko’s supporters say the case was a politically motivated attempt to stop her activism and punish her for showing dissent publicly.

Amnesty International: A Russian court today found human rights defender and prisoner of conscience Anastasia Shevchenko guilty of “organizing activity of an undesirable organization” and handed down a four-year suspended prison sentence. Responding to the conviction Amnesty International’s Moscow Office Director, Natalya Zviagina, said: “This decision is a travesty of justice. Anastasia Shevchenko has committed no crime. She should have never been deprived of liberty in the first place, as she was criminally persecuted solely for peacefully exercising her human rights. Her conviction must be quashed.” “Anastasia Shevchenko has already suffered unimaginably at the hands of Russia’s deeply flawed justice system. She has been under house arrest for over two years, and been subjected to humiliation and intrusive surveillance in her own home. Tragically, Anastasia’s teenage daughter died during the early days of her house arrest and Anastasia was not permitted to be with her in her final days. “Anastasia Shevchenko has been held hostage by a cynical, cruel, and inhumane system whose sole purpose is to suppress, intimidate and crush Russia’s bravest and strongest activists. And she will now have a criminal record.

Human Rights Watch: Today, a Russian court sentenced Anastasiya Shevchenko to a 4-year suspended sentence for affiliation with an “undesirable organization.” While it is a relief that Shevchenko will not have to serve prison time, this totally unjust ruling exemplifies the persecution civic activists continue to face in Russia. Shevchenko spent two years under house arrest and will now have a criminal record – all for merely taking part in a public discussion and a peaceful protest, which the authorities are equating with a threat to constitutional order and national security. The court ruled her activities were linked to a banned foreign organization, Open Russia Civic Movement (ORCM). Under a highly controversial Russian law, once designated “undesirable,” a foreign or international organization must cease all activities in Russia and anyone deemed to have affiliation can be held criminally liable.

RFE/RL: A Moscow court has upheld a ruling placing Oleg Navalny, the brother of jailed opposition politician Aleksei Navalny, under house arrest. The Moscow City Court on February 18 rejected Oleg Navalny’s appeal against a lower court decision to place him under house arrest on charges of breaking coronavirus restrictions by publicly calling on Moscow residents to take part in unsanctioned rallies to protest his brother’s arrest. Oleg Navalny is one of 10 supporters and associates of Navalny who were detained in January on the eve of unsanctioned mass rallies against the Kremlin critic’s arrest.

Amnesty International: On 4 February, 20-year-old Salekh Magamadov and 17-year-old Ismail Isaev were abducted by police in Central Russia and taken to Chechnya. They had fled Chechnya in 2020, following their arbitrary detention and reported torture for exercising their right to freedom of expression, and fearing further reprisals, including in connection with their real or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity. Their whereabouts are currently unknown. They are victims of enforced disappearance, and their physical and mental integrity and their lives are at risk.

Reporters without Borders: Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns new, “Kafkaesque” amendments to Russia’s so-called “foreign agents” law. These nonsensical and incomprehensible additions, which include heavier fines, aim to intimidate journalists and get them to censor themselves, RSF says. Passed on 16 February by the Duma, the Russian parliament’s lower house, the amendments are so impenetrable that even the legal specialists at Agora, a Russian human rights NGO run by lawyers, are baffled. Since 1 January, journalists have been required by this law to check whether any person or organization quoted in an article is on the justice ministry’s “foreign agents” list before publishing. If they are, they must mention this in the article. And if they or their media is on the list, they must also mention this in every article. Twelve media outlets and three journalists are already on the list, but a new, longer list is due to be released soon.

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