News of the Day: 21 May 2021

The Moscow Times: Jailed Russian gulag historian Yuri Dmitriyev, who is serving 13 years in prison, has won the Sakharov Freedom Award on the 100th anniversary of the birth of Nobel laureate and human rights activist Andrei Sakharov. Dmitriyev was recognized for his work in identifying victims of Soviet repressions in Karelia by reassembling the bones from  mass graves, the Norwegian Helsinki Committee human rights NGO said in a statement. “Dmitriyev’s work on so-called liquidations during the Stalin era are considered so threatening by the current Russian government that accusations of paedophilia and sexual abuse have been fabricated against him,” said Secretary General of the Norwegian Helsinki Committee Geir Hønneland.

The Moscow Times: Dozens of new pits have been discovered in a notorious Stalin-era execution site outside Moscow where more than 10,000 political dissidents are believed to be buried, the Kommersant business daily reported Thursday. The existence of the mass grave in southwestern Moscow’s district of Kommunarka became known when the KGB opened its archives, before abruptly closing them, in the last days of the Soviet Union. Its successor, Russia’s FSB, estimates that up to 14,000 people were shot and thrown into mass graves at the Kommunarka firing range between 1937-1941.

RSF: Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls for the immediate release of Aleksandr Dorogov and Yan Katelevskiy​, two Russian journalists specialising in investigating police corruption who have been detained for nearly ten months and whose pretrial detention has just been extended. This judicial persecution is unacceptable and must stop, RSF says. A court ruled yesterday that Dorogov and Katelevskiy, who are both deputy chief editors at the independent investigative news website Rosderzhava, should remain in detention until the end of July while the police continue to investigate the case.

RFE/RL: The Memorial Human Rights Center says it has recognized four Crimean Tatars being tried for their alleged association with a banned Islamic group as political prisoners. The Moscow-based group said the four are being illegally persecuted for political reasons after being arrested “in connection with their non-violent exercising of their rights to freedom of religion and association” “The Memorial Human Rights Center, according to international criteria , considers Seytumer Shukrievich Seytumerov, Osman Seytumerov, Amet Suleimanov and Rustem Seytmemetov political prisoners, and Seytumer Veliyevich Seytumerov — illegally persecuted for political reasons,” the group said in a statement released on May 20.

The Moscow Times: Like many Russians, Darya Apakhonchich is an enthusiastic Facebook user. Her wall is filled with posts about her young children, her work as a language teacher and topics she worries about. But everything Apakhonchich posts includes a prominent disclaimer in Russian: “THIS MESSAGE (MATERIAL) WAS CREATED AND (OR) DISTRIBUTED BY FOREIGN MASS MEDIA PERFORMING THE FUNCTIONS OF A FOREIGN AGENT, AND (OR) A RUSSIAN LEGAL ENTITY PERFORMING THE FUNCTIONS OF A FOREIGN AGENT” Apakhonchich is one of five private citizens in Russia designated as a “foreign media agent” by the country’s Justice Ministry at the end of last year. Since then she has been legally obliged to mention her status on all her social media posts or face steep fines.

RFE/RL: Russia’s lower house of parliament is planning to tighten a bill ahead of its second reading to ban supporters and members of “extremist” organizations from being elected to any post. The draft law that first passed in the State Duma on May 18 barred individuals involved in the activities of an organization that has been recognized by a court as extremist or terrorist from running in elections for the lower house for up to five years. The measure appears aimed at neutralizing the foundation of jailed opposition politician Aleksei Navalny that Russian authorities are seeking to have declared extremist ahead of parliamentary elections in September.

RFE/RL: A group of Russian lawmakers has introduced a bill to parliament that would require foreign IT companies to set up local units or face penalties, including a possible ban, as Moscow continues to tighten its control over the flow of information on the Internet. The bill, presented to parliament on May 21, comes as the Internet rapidly gains clout in Russia, offering a vehicle to challenge the Kremlin narrative and prompting President Vladimir Putin to turn his sights on social-media companies.

The Moscow Times: Jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny said Thursday he successfully eased out of his hunger strike and has discovered the recipe for being “happy” in prison. Navalny, President Vladimir Putin’s best known domestic critic, is serving two-and-a-half years in a penal colony outside Moscow on old fraud charges he says are politically motivated.  Russia’s top opposition politician went on hunger strike at the end of March demanding proper treatment behind bars for severe back pain and numbness in his limbs. Navalny, who will turn 45 next month, ended the protest on April 23 after he received treatment at a civilian hospital and the West warned Putin of consequences if his critic died.

RFE/RL: Born a century ago, atomic bomb designer and dissident Andrei Sakharov died two years before the Soviet Union’s collapse, cutting short his struggle for “pluralism, freedom, and respect for the individual.” What would he think of Russia today?

Leave a Reply