News of the Day: 19 February 2021

Human Rights in Ukraine: A Russian court has convicted Rostov civic activist Anastasia Shevchenko of taking part in an NGO which the state has declared ‘undesirable’ and passed a four-year suspended sentence.  Since the ‘Open Russia’ activist had been under house arrest for over two years, and the prosecutor had demanded a real 5-year prison term, the sentence could undoubtedly have been worse.  That does not make this first criminal prosecution for involvement in an ‘undesirable organization’ any the less ominous for NGOs and activists defending human rights in Russia and occupied Crimea.

Human Rights Watch: On February 17, Russia’s security services and national guard raided the homes of seven Muslim men in Crimea — six of them Crimean Tatars. At four in the morning, armed men banged on the doors and windows of their homes in Sevastopol, Bakhchisaray, Belogorsk, and Simferopol. They entered without introducing themselves, conducted searches, questioned terrified family, and confiscated religious books. Then they took the men away. The same day, courts ordered six of them be placed in custody until mid-April, one of their lawyers told me. All six are being accused of involvement with Hizb-ut Tahrir, a group which aims to establish an Islamic caliphate but renounces violence. Banned in Russia as a terrorist organization, the group operates legally in Ukraine.

Human Rights in Ukraine: Russian prison authorities are effectively threatening reprisals against Oleksiy Bessarabov because he is refusing to hand over the Ukrainian government’s grant to him as a political prisoner in order to pay a preposterous fine.  44-year-old Bessarabov and Volodynyr Dudka (56) are both serving 14-year sentences on entirely fabricated ‘Crimean saboteur’ charges, with both men also ordered to pay fines of 300 thousand and 350 thousand roubles, respectively. Ukraine’s Human Rights Ombudsperson, Lyudmyla Denisova reported on 12 February, citing Bessarabov’s family, that the Russian prison administration have been trying to force him to pay the fine via the state assistance which Ukraine allocates for political prisoners and their families, or by doing forced labour.  Bessarabov’s refusal has been met with blackmail and threats to throw him into a SHIZO, or punishment cell, where the conditions are even worse than where he is presently held.  

RFE/RL: Russian police have once again removed a makeshift memorial to slain opposition politician Boris Nemtsov in central Moscow and detained two activists guarding it, local media reported. Grigory Simakov, one of the volunteers who help guard the memorial, told the Novaya gazeta newspaper that police destroyed it and later placed two metal barricades on the spot. Simakov said police took two of the volunteers to the station to check their documents while he and his wife were chased away. The memorial consisting of flowers, photographs, and candles is located on the Bolshoi Moskvoretsky Bridge — a short walk from the Kremlin — where Nemtsov was gunned down nearly six years ago, on February 27, 2015.

The Moscow Times: The Moscow Civic Chamber plans to launch a citywide vote next week on whether to restore the statue of the Soviet secret police’s notorious founder 30 years after it was toppled, its senior member announced Friday. The monument to “Iron” Felix Dzerzhinsky, who headed the Cheka secret police following the 1917 revolution, was removed from the KGB headquarters with the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. It currently stands in the open-air Fallen Monument Park an hour’s walk south of the building that now houses the Federal Security Service (FSB).

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