News of the Day: 22 April 2021

Amnesty International: Russian authorities unleashed a crackdown on peaceful protesters demanding the release of Aleksei Navalny, arresting at least 1,700 and using excessive force, including tasers, at demonstrations around the country. Amnesty International calls for the immediate release of all those who have been detained for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and assembly, and for the immediate release of Aleksei Navalny who is being arbitrarily detained and denied access to independent healthcare. “On Wednesday, in cities around Russia, tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets calling for an end to the arbitrary imprisonment of Aleksei Navalny. In many cities, as usual, the Russian authorities responded by arresting protesters en masse, often using excessive force. If Moscow was spared from police violence and almost no one there detained this time, in Saint Petersburg police used tasers indiscriminately and in several instances beat detained protesters”, said Natalia Zviagina, Amnesty International’s Moscow Office Director.

Human Rights Watch: Russian police detained more than 1,600 people countrywide who were taking part in protests on April 21, 2021, against the treatment of the jailed and critically ill opposition figure Alexey Navalny, Human Rights Watch said today. Police also rounded up dozens of opposition activists and raided opposition offices in advance of the protests, but there were far fewer reports of police brutality compared with recent protests in Russia. The protests in some regions took place during President Vladimir Putin’s state of the nation address to parliament and also concerned corruption, recent steps to label groups associated with Navalny “extremist,” and fears that armed conflicts involving Russia may escalate. “There was less police violence and brutality on April 21 compared with the January and February pro-Navalny protests, but the authorities’ continued clampdown on freedom of assembly is wholly unjustified,” said Damelya Aitkhozhina, Russia researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The authorities are quick to allege that without police interference so-called “unauthorized” gatherings become violent, but the April 21 protests showed how baseless that allegation is.” Local experts monitoring freedom of assembly reported that more than 1,600 people were arrested in over 60 cities and towns. They included the first arrests in Magadan, in eastern Siberia, in recent years for peacefully exercising the right to freedom of assembly, media reported. Human Rights Watch researchers monitored the protests online and observed that the protests were overwhelmingly peaceful.

CPJ: Russian authorities should stop harassing journalists and allow members of the press to cover political demonstrations without fear, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. Yesterday, police detained at least 10 journalists and harassed several others in relation to their coverage of unauthorized protests in support of jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, which took place in dozens of cities throughout the country, according to news reports and CPJ interviews. At least 1,000 people were arrested nationwide in relation to those protests, according to news reports. “Russian authorities should allow journalists to cover political protests freely and without fear that they will be detained, harassed, and intimidated by police,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, in New York. “Russian law enforcement should ensure that journalists can do their jobs safely, and not resort to detention and harassment to interfere with coverage of events of national interest.”

RFE/RL: Imprisoned Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny has expressed “pride and hope” after nationwide demonstrations calling for his release amid reports his health is deteriorating. In a post to Instagram on April 22, Navalny called the thousands of Russians who took to the streets the previous day “the salvation of Russia.” Russian police detained more than 1,700 people during the rallies, including at least 10 journalists, in what Amnesty International described as being part of “shocking crackdown on basic freedoms.” Navalny, 44, has been in custody since January. He has been on hunger strike since March 31 to demand that doctors treat him for severe pain in his back and legs.

The Moscow Times: Alexei Navalny’s personal doctors on Thursday urged him to “immediately” call off his hunger strike as the jailed Kremlin critic said he was full of “pride and hope” after nationwide protests. Thousands of Russians took to the streets in dozens of cities across the country on Wednesday evening, after the West warned the Kremlin that it would face “consequences” in the event of Navalny’s death. President Vladimir Putin’s best-known critic barely survived a poisoning with the Novichok nerve agent in August, and his health has been failing since he declared a hunger strike on March 31 to demand proper medical care for a range of ailments, including back pain and numbness in his limbs. On Thursday, his private doctors —who have been unable to examine their patient in his prison colony — said they were asking Navalny to “immediately halt the hunger strike to preserve your life and health.”

The Moscow Times: Russia will deport more than 100 foreign nationals for attending recent rallies in support of jailed and hunger-striking Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, a senior Moscow migration official said Thursday. Tens of thousands took to the streets across 11 Russian time zones Wednesday to demand Navalny’s release and treatment by his own doctors as he entered his fourth week of hunger strike. Independent monitors reported nearly 2,000 detentions with riot police reportedly using aggressive tactics including tasers. “The 122 foreign citizens who participated in the unauthorized protests in Moscow will not be allowed entry for 40 years,” Dmitry Sergiyenko, the chief migration officer at the Russian Interior Ministry’s Moscow branch, was quoted as saying by Interfax. Sergiyenko did not disclose which countries the protesters will be deported back to.

The Moscow Times: The Kremlin on Thursday downplayed opposition protests in support of jailed opposition figure Alexei Navalny that saw nearly 1,800 people detained across Russia. Thousands of people took to the streets Wednesday to demand freedom and proper medical attention for Navalny, who has been on a hunger strike for three weeks in a penal colony outside Moscow. The opposition staged unauthorized demonstrations in dozens of Russian cities, with the largest rallies in Moscow. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Thursday that he saw “no reason” to comment on the protests.  “I am not aware that anywhere the rallies were held in a legal manner,” Peskov said. 

The Guardian: A series of senior European MPs have been approached in recent days by individuals who appear to be using deepfake filters to imitate Russian opposition figures during video calls. Those tricked include Rihards Kols, who chairs the foreign affairs committee of Latvia’s parliament, as well as MPs from Estonia and Lithuania. Tom Tugendhat, the chair of the UK foreign affairs select committee, has also said he was targeted. “Putin’s Kremlin is so weak and frightened of the strength of @navalny they’re conducting fake meetings to discredit the Navalny team,” Tugendhat posted in a tweet, referring to the Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny. “They got through to me today. They won’t broadcast the bits where I call Putin a murderer and thief, so I’ll put it here.”

RFE/RL: A Russian national suspected of spying for Ukraine has been arrested in the Russian-occupied region of Crimea. The Lenin district court in the city of Sevastopol said on April 22 that “a Russian citizen born in 1998” suspected of high treason had been placed under pretrial arrest until at least June 19. Earlier in the day, Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) said its officers had detained a person who “passed classified information about Russia’s Black Sea Fleet to Ukrainian military intelligence.” No further details of the case were made public.

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