News of the Day: 21 April 2021

OHCHR: UN human rights experts today expressed alarm at the deteriorating health situation of detained Russian Government critic Alexei Navalny, and called for his urgent medical evacuation from Russia. “We believe Mr. Navalny’s life is in serious danger,” said the independent experts appointed by the Human Rights Council. “He has been incarcerated under harsh conditions in a high security penal colony and denied access to adequate medical care. Despite having recently been transferred to a hospital, doctors of his own choosing have not been allowed to visit him. We are deeply troubled that Mr. Navalny is being kept in conditions that could amount to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment in a facility that reportedly does not meet international standards. Under international human rights law, when detaining a person, irrespective of the reason for the detention, the State bears full responsibility to care for his life and bodily integrity. Due to this heightened duty of care, the Government of the Russian Federation must take all necessary measures to protect Mr. Navalny’s physical and mental health and well-being. We are extremely concerned that the current danger to Mr Navalny’s life, his most recent incarceration and the past attacks on him, including an attempt against his life last August with the nerve agent Novichok, which the Russian authorities have yet to effectively investigate, are all part of a deliberate pattern of retaliation against him for his criticism of the Russian Government and a gross violation of his human rights.”

The Moscow Times: Jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny’s team have called for protests across the country on the day President Vladimir Putin gives his annual address to the nation.  Putin’s most vociferous critic has been on hunger strike for three weeks, demanding to see his own doctors for a host of ailments. They have said he “could die any minute” from cardiac arrest. Navalny was jailed in January immediately after his return to Russia from Germany, where he had spent five months recovering from a near-fatal nerve agent poisoning he blames on the Kremlin. He was sentenced to two and a half years for violating parole on 2014 fraud charges that he calls politically motivated. U.S. President Joe Biden, who imposed a new round of anti-Russian sanctions last week, said on Saturday that Navalny’s plight was “totally, totally unfair, totally inappropriate.” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said on Monday that the bloc holds Russia “responsible” for Navalny’s health. Wednesday’s protests are set to take place in nearly 200 cities and towns nationwide.

RFE/RL: Hundreds of Russians have begun protests in the country’s far eastern regions demanding the release of Aleksei Navalny as police in Moscow and other cities rounded up allies of the jailed opposition leader as rallies rolled across the country. In Moscow, Lyubov Sobol, one of the faces of Navalny’s popular YouTube channel, and Kira Yarmysh, his spokeswoman, were both detained in Moscow on April 21, according to their lawyers. Meanwhile, Vladimir Ryzhkov, the former deputy speaker of Russian parliament’s lower chamber, the State Duma, told the TASS news agency that police had detained him on suspicion of violating the law on holding public events and mass gatherings. European Council President Charles Michel called the arrest of Navalny’s closest allies ahead of the protests “deplorable.” “The detention of supporters of Navalny in advance of planned protests in Russia today are deplorable,” Michel, who chairs EU summits, said on Twitter. “Authorities must respect the right to assembly,”

The Guardian: Thousands of Russians have rallied in cities across the country in a last-ditch effort to secure the freedom of the jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny. The demonstrations have shown the determination of Navalny’s core supporters, who called for “freedom for political prisoners!” at tense standoffs opposite riot police in helmets and body armour, who have vowed to break up the unsanctioned demonstrations. But early turnout in cities in the far east of the country and Siberia suggested the protests would not be larger than those of past months, as the Kremlin prepares to deliver a potentially lethal blow to Navalny’s political organisation nationwide by declaring it extremist. On Wednesday morning Russian police arrested some of Navalny’s key allies and closed central squares in Moscow – where a rally was due to start at 7pm (1700 BST) – and other cities.

The Moscow Times: Russian prosecutors have asked a court to dissolve jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) and his regional network of headquarters, Interfax reported Tuesday. The demand comes ahead of planned protests on Wednesday calling for Navalny’s immediate treatment at a civilian hospital as his allies sound the alarm over his deteriorating health in prison.  The Moscow prosecutor’s office claims that the FBK aims “to create conditions for a change in the foundations of the constitutional order, a change of government and the implementation of the scenario of a color revolution.”

CPJ: Authorities in Russian-occupied Crimea should not contest the appeal of journalist Bekir Mamutov, and should refrain from fining members of the press over their coverage, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. Yesterday, the magistrates’ court of the Zheleznodorozhny district of Simferopol, the capital of Russian-occupied Crimea, convicted Mamutov, chief editor of the independent newspaper Qirim, of “dissemination of information about a banned organization” without labeling it as such, according to news reports, Mamutov, and his lawyer Hatice Mamut, both of whom spoke with CPJ in a phone interview. The court ordered Mamutov to pay a fine of 4,000 rubles (US$52), the journalist said. Mamutov told CPJ that he maintains his innocence and will appeal the verdict to the Supreme Court of Crimea.

RFE/RL: A court in Russia has upheld lengthy prison sentences handed down to a couple convicted on high treason charges that stemmed from a wedding photo that included an officer of the Federal Security Service (FSB). Maria Bontsler, a lawyer for Antonina Zimina, told RFE/RL that the Moscow Court of Appeal had rejected the appeals of Zimina and her husband, Konstantin Antonets, on April 20. The couple, from Russia’s Far Western Kaliningrad exclave, was found guilty of spying for Latvia in late December 2020. The couple were charged with treason after state prosecutors accused them of sharing a photograph with Latvia of a counterintelligence officer from the FSB who had attended their wedding. Investigators later additionally charged them with passing classified information to a foreign country.

The Moscow Times: The number of scientists and highly qualified specialists leaving Russia has risen fivefold in nearly a decade, Russia’s Academy of Sciences (RAS) said Monday. Nikolai Dolgushkin, the RAS presidium’s chief scientific secretary, estimated that emigration among Russian researchers increased from 14,000 in 2012 to almost 70,000 last year. He contrasted the figures with China, the United States and other countries bolstering their ranks with tens of thousands of new researchers over the same period. “Objectively speaking, Russia is the only developed country where the number of scientists has been decreasing for several decades in a row,” Dolgushkin said. He noted that in 1990 Russia had 992,000 researchers, the world’s highest number. By 2019, that figure had dwindled by two-thirds to 348,000 researchers.

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