News of the Day: 21 January 2021

Amnesty International: On 17 January, prominent Russian anti-corruption and opposition activist Aleksei Navalny was arrested at the airport as he returned to Moscow. He has narrowly survived what has since been independently confirmed as poisoning by Novichok nerve agent in August 2020 and spent the last five months in Germany recovering. He is a prisoner of conscience, his detention arbitrary and politically motivated.

The Guardian: Russia committed a series of human rights violations during its war with Georgia in 2008, the European court of human rights ruled on Thursday, saying Moscow was responsible for the murder of Georgian civilians, and the looting and burning of their homes. In a landmark judgment, the court said the Kremlin was guilty of unlawfully rounding up ethnic Georgians and their subsequent “inhuman and degrading treatment”. This included the torture of Georgian prisoners of war and the expulsion of Georgian villagers from their homes in South Ossetia. The ruling comes 13 years after a bitter five-day August conflict between Russian forces and Georgian troops. The then Georgian government of Mikheil Saakashvili launched a doomed attempt to wrest back control of the Russian-backed breakaway territory of South Ossetia.

CPJ: Russian authorities should cease intimidating and harassing journalists covering protests in the country, and allow members of the press to work freely, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. Since yesterday, police and the country’s media regulator have issued warnings to at least four journalists, as well as to news outlets and social media platforms, discouraging them from covering protests in support of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny, scheduled for January 23, according to news reports. Authorities arrested Navalny, an opposition politician and an anti-corruption blogger, on January 17 when he returned to Russia from Germany, where he had been hospitalized after being poisoned, allegedly by Russian authorities, in August, according to news reports.

Caucasian Knot: In its today’s judgment in the case of Georgia v. Russia (II), the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has recognized that Russia was involved in the violation of human rights in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, but was not responsible for the hostilities in August 2008. According to the ECtHR, in the period from August 12 to October 10, 2008, the Russian Federation exercised “effective control” over South Ossetia and Abkhazia and officially brought its troops there. “After that period, the strong Russian presence and the South-Ossetian and Abkhazian authorities’ dependency on the Russian Federation indicated that there had been continued ‘effective control’ over South Ossetia and Abkhazia,” the Strasbourg Court concluded. “The Court therefore concluded that the events occurring after the cessation of hostilities had fallen within the jurisdiction of the Russian Federation. It found a number of violations of the Convention,” reads the press release posted on the ECtHR’s website today. The ECtHR’s judgment in the inter-State case of Georgia v. Russia (II) contains no decision regarding any monetary compensation. The Strasbourg Court left the relevant issue for further consideration.

RFE/RL: Lyubov Sobol, a lawyer for Russian opposition politician Aleksei Navalny, has been detained by police on a charge of calling for an unsanctioned rally in relation to a planned nationwide protest on January 23 in support of the jailed Kremlin critic. Sobol’s lawyer, Vladimir Voronin, tweeted on January 21 that police stopped his car and took his client to a police station to charge her there. Before that, three men had been at Sobol’s apartment and tried to hand her a written warning from the Moscow Prosecutor’s Office about the planned protest. Earlier in the day, a lawyer with Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Fund, Vladlen Los, who is Belarusian citizen, was briefly detained and informed that he must leave Russia before January 25.

RAPSI: Alexey Navalny and his defense have filed an appeal against a ruling of the Moscow Region’s Khimki Town Court to detain the blogger for 30 days, his attorney Vadim Kobzev has told RAPSI. On January 17, the blogger was arrested at the Sheremetyevo Airport on his return from Germany based on the search warrant issued in late December. Upon a court order, he was placed in detention until February 15.

RFE/RL: Russia’s telecommunications watchdog, Roskomnadzor, has urged social-media networks, including the video-sharing app TikTok, to stop the spreading of posts by users that call on Russia’s youth to take part in “illegal” public gatherings, such as one planned for this weekend to support Kremlin critic Aleksei Navalny. In a January 20 statement, which was also placed on the VKontakte social network, Roskomnadzor said the request to TikTok had been sent at the request of the Prosecutor-General’s Office. “Materials are being spread via TikTok, calling young users of the social network to take part in illegal mass protest events,” the statement says.

RFE/RL: Russian officials have stepped up their campaign against jailed Kremlin critic Aleksei Navalny, rounding up his associates and warning social media and news networks against spreading information about nationwide protest this weekend. At least five allies of the 44-year-old were detained on January 21, including top figures from his Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK). The police sweep comes as demonstrations are planned in dozens of cities on January 23 in support of Navalny following his detention last weekend upon his return to Russia from Germany, where he was being treated for a nearly fatal poisoning with a nerve agent since August.

RFE/RL: European lawmakers are expected to pass a resolution on January 21 calling on the European Union to halt construction on the nearly complete Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which would carry Russian natural gas to Germany under the Baltic Sea. Members of the European Parliament are calling for expanded sanctions against Russia over the weekend arrest of opposition figure Aleksei Navalny upon his return to Moscow after being treated in Germany for poisoning with a nerve agent over the summer. Navalny was remanded in custody for 30 days on January 18 in a summary hearing held in a Moscow police station. The court claimed he violated probation requirements in a previous criminal case that is widely considered trumped up and politically motivated. Russia has rebuffed the global outrage and chorus of international calls calling for Navalny’s release. He faces up to 3 1/2 years in prison.

Caucasian Knot: In its investigation “Palace for Putin. Story of the Biggest Bribe”, the Anti-Corruption Foundation (known as the FBK) has not so much made a sensation, but rather systematized data from various sources on the construction of Putin’s “dacha” (summer residence) near Gelendjik, analysts assert. The “Caucasian Knot” has reported that after Navalny’s arrest, the FBK has released an investigation about Putin’s palace near the city of Gelendjik, Krasnodar Territory, the largest private house in Russia, which is being built for money of state-owned companies. The total area of the palace is over 17,000 square meters; a land plot of 7000 hectares is adjacent thereto; this area could house 39 Monaco principalities; and the construction cost is about 100 billion Russian roubles, says Alexei Navalny. For a long time, the actions of Krasnodar ecologists were aimed at countering the seizure of forest lands along the perimeter of “Putin’s palace,” Evgeny Vitishko, an ecologist, told the “Caucasian Knot” correspondent. “I’ve watched the FBK’s investigation with pleasure. Our guesses have been confirmed that around, in Krinitsa itself, and along the Pshada River, some people close to Putin had been acting. But we never imagined that it was all a single whole, that it was all Putin,” Mr Vitishko has stated. Dmitry Shevchenko, the head of the NGO “Civil Initiative against Eco-Criminality”, believes that the uniqueness of the FBK’s film is not that there is something new there, since all the facts had already been voiced out earlier in various sources, but that this is the first attempt to systematize all this information and present it logically. Mikhail Benyash, an advocate, told the “Caucasian Knot” correspondent that he had lived in Gelendjik for 10 years; and all local residents knew that “Putin’s dacha” had been built in Praskoveevka. Mr Benyash believes that “the FBK inquiry will have consequences for the president,” because a world leader should think about the fate of his homeland, and not get drowned in luxury.” “I just imagine the amount of money spent on this all. The city of Gelendjik is nearby, without potable water, with its stinking sewage pipe draining out into the sea – for decades they cannot build a normal sewage system there. They say that such system costs three billion roubles, and do not know where to get it; but here, they are spending dozens of billions for the palace,” Mikhail Benyash has stated.

© Caucasian Knot

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