News of the Day: 18 March 2021

The Moscow Times: Chechen officials and members of the public are calling for the investigative newspaper Novaya Gazeta to be banned after it reported on extrajudicial killings in the southern Russian region. The chorus of outrage grew after Novaya Gazeta on Monday published an ex-police officer’s eyewitness account of the torture and execution of 13 detainees in 2017. His written testimony added fresh evidence to Novaya’s previous investigations claiming that Chechen security officials executed 27 out of more than 100 people detained in anti-terror raids.

RFE/RL: A special police regiment in Russia’s North Caucasus region has urged President Vladimir Putin “to protect” them from “defamation” by the Moscow-based independent investigative newspaper Novaya Gazeta after it published a report about alleged extrajudicial killings and torture by law enforcement in the region. The regiment’s personnel issued a video statement on Instagram on March 17, in which its representatives called Novaya Gazeta, which was co-founded by former President Mikhail Gorbachev in 1993 and is one of the few Russian media outlets critical of the country’s leadership, “a fake periodical,” and its reports ‘defamatory attacks.” The statement also said that the regiment’s members were “ready to carry our any order of the Supreme Commander.”

The Guardian: Russia’s media watchdog has told Twitter to delete the account of an opposition news outlet following threats from Moscow to block the social network entirely if it did not remove “banned content” within a month. The moves are part of a wider crackdown on social media and the opposition after protests supporting the jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, which were organised via online platforms. Analysts said the threat to ban Twitter was the first step in a campaign that could lead to other networks being blocked in Russia, where most traditional media are tightly controlled by the state. The watchdog Roskomnadzor had contacted Twitter to demand it removed the account of MBKh Media, an online news outlet founded by Mihkail Khodorkovsky, an exiled oligarch and critic of Putin, the media group said on Wednesday. MBKh media said the watchdog had accused it of “violating the laws of the Russian Federation” by sharing information from “undesirable” groups.

RFE/RL: A Moscow court has extended the house arrest of Kira Yarmysh, a spokeswoman of jailed opposition politician Aleksei Navalny. The Basmanny district court on March 18 ruled that the house arrest of Yarmysh and three other Navalny supporters will be prolonged until June 23. No reason was given for the decision. The current house arrest period had been set to end on March 23. Yarmysh, along with nine other associates and supporters of Navalny, have been charged with publicly calling for Moscow residents to violate sanitary and epidemiological safety precautions.

RFE/RL: The Moscow City Court has upheld a lower court decision to extend the pretrial detention of former journalist Ivan Safronov, who is charged with high treason, until May 7. The appeal of a March 2 ruling by Moscow’s Lefortovo district court to extend Safronov’s detention was held on March 18 behind closed doors, as the case is classified. The 30-year-old Safronov, who has worked since May as an adviser to the head of Russia’s space agency Roskosmos, Dmitry Rogozin, is a prominent journalist who covered the military-industrial complex for the newspapers Kommersant and Vedomosti. He was arrested on July 7, 2020, amid allegations that he had passed secret information to the Czech Republic in 2017 about Russian arms sales in the Middle East.

Human Rights in Ukraine: Almost a week after Vladislav Yesypenko was seized in Russian-occupied Crimea, the FSB are preventing the freelance journalist from seeing an independent lawyer. Changes in the FSB’s story, as well as the involvement of a ‘lawyer’ used in other political cases, make it likely that illegal methods, including torture, are being used to force Yesypenko to provide the ‘confessions’ demanded of him. The FSB’s story as per an official statement on 16 March differs significantly from that heard after Yesypenko first disappeared, together with Yelizaveta Pavlenko, from Alushta soon after they took part in laying flowers at the monument to the great Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko on 9 March, the 2007th anniversary of Shevchenko’s birth. Contact with them was lost the following day and it soon became clear that both had been detained by masked FSB officers.  The latter carried out a search, lasting many hours, of Pavlenko’s home and took away various pieces of technology and other others, but did not arrest her.

CPJ: Russian authorities should immediately release journalist Vladislav Yesypenko and drop all charges against him, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. On March 10, Federal Security Service officers in Russian-occupied Crimea detained Yesypenko, a freelance journalist, according to news reports and a lawyer hired by his family, Emil Kurbedinov, who spoke with CPJ in a phone interview but who has been prevented from meeting his client.

The Moscow Times: Russian investigators said Thursday they will examine the lyrics of the country’s entry to this year’s Eurovision song contest after it angered conservative groups. Manizha Sangin, known as Manizha, is set to perform the song “Russian Woman” at the annual competition in The Netherlands during May. It praises the strength of Russian women, urging them to be more independent and to resist sexist views on beauty, age and bearing children.  The 29-year-old singer, who was born in ex-Soviet Tajikistan but now lives in Russia, is also an activist for women’s and refugees’ rights.

RFE/RL: The G7 group of nations has marked the seventh anniversary of Russia’s forcible annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula by reaffirming their “unwavering support” for the independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity of Ukraine within its internationally recognized borders. In a joint statement on March 18, the foreign ministers of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the United States, as well as the EU’s foreign policy chief, “unequivocally denounce Russia’s temporary occupation” of Crimea and its “violations of human rights on the peninsula, particularly of Crimean Tatars.” They said they also “firmly oppose Russia’s continued destabilization of Ukraine,” especially in the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, where fighting between Ukrainian government forces and Russia-backed separatists has killed more than 13,000 people since April 2014.

RFE/RL: The United States and European Union have reiterated their condemnation of Russia’s increasing repression of independent media, including RFE/RL. Courtney Austrian, the U.S. charge d’ affaires to the Permanent Council of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), said in a March 18 statement that Russia’s new requirements for outlets branded “foreign media agents” were in some cases technically impossible and were being “used against entities and individuals associated, sometimes only tangentially, with U.S. Agency for Global Media, or USAGM, funded programming in Russia.” The assault on USAGM outlets, including RFE/RL, “reflects a broader crackdown on independent voices and civil society,” Austrian wrote in the statement on behalf of both the United States and Canada.

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