News of the Day: 22 January 2021

Amnesty International: On 17 January, prominent Russian anti-corruption and opposition activist Aleksei Navalny was arrested upon his arrival to Moscow after his five months of treatment and recovery in Germany. He had been poisoned by Novichok nerve agent in August 2020. Aleksei Navalny is a prominent and vocal government critic. Like many others in Russia, he has been arbitrarily targeted and now deprived of his liberty for his peaceful political activism and for exercising his right to freedom of expression. […] Aleksei Navalny is a prisoner of conscience and his detention is arbitrary and politically motivated. He must be released immediately and unconditionally. Sign the petition now and urge President Vladimir Putin to use his authority to ensure Aleksei Navalny’s immediate and unconditional release. Tell him to end the intimidation and persecution of Aleksei Navalny and all other critics of the Russian authorities.

RSF: The Russian police are threatening journalists with prosecution in order to deter them from covering tomorrow’s demonstrations in support of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny, while online media are liable to be blocked at any moment. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns these serious obstacles to journalism in Russia. As preparations are being made for pro-Navalny demonstrations in 65 Russian cities tomorrow, several journalists have received visits from police warning them of the risk of prosecution if they cover the protests. An order has meanwhile already been issued for websites to be blocked if they post “illegal information” linked to the protests. “Journalists must not fall victim to agitated officials trying to prevent a protest,” said Jeanne Cavelier, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk. “Covering a demonstration in support of a government opponent who has survived a poisoning attempt is not a crime. We call on the authorities to respect the Russian constitution, to let journalists do their job, and to not surrender to the temptation of a Belarusian-style crackdown.”

The Guardian: Russian authorities have detained five aides of jailed opposition politician Alexei Navalny and warned social media platforms against spreading online calls to stage weekend protests. Navalny’s allies are planning to hold demonstrations on Saturday in around 65 cities across the country in support of the Kremlin critic who was arrested and jailed on his return to Russia over the weekend. Navalny, 44, returned to Russia on Sunday from Germany, where he had been recovering from a near-fatal poisoning with the Novichok nerve agent in an attack he blamed on Russian security services and President Vladimir Putin. His arrest drew widespread condemnation, with the United States, the European Union, France and Canada all calling for his release.

The Moscow Times: Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny has said he does not plan to commit suicide and thanked his supporters in his first statement since being jailed in one of Moscow’s most notorious prisons upon his return to Russia. Navalny was sentenced to a month in jail this week after returning from Germany, where he had been recovering from what Western scientists determined to be poisoning with the Novichok nerve agent. He is being held in Matrosskaya Tishina, the site where lawyer Sergei Magnitsky died in 2009 after investigating large-scale fraud involving Russian tax officials. 

RFE/RL: A court in Moscow has fined Lyubov Sobol, a lawyer at opposition politician Aleksei Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation, for calling on the public to hold rallies to protest the Kremlin critic’s detention. The Simonov district court on January 22 found Sobol guilty of a “violation of the law on mass gatherings,” namely of calling for unsanctioned rallies. It ordered her to pay a fine of 250,000 rubles ($3,400). She was released after the hearing.

RAPSI: Moscow’s Savelovsky District Court on Friday placed Kira Yarmysh, the spokesperson of Alexey Navalny, for 9 days after she had called people for participation in an unauthorized rally, the court’s press service told RAPSI. The court found her guilty of organizing or holding a public event without receiving authorization from authorities. Yarmysh was arrested on Thursday.

RFE/RL: Lawyers of jailed Kremlin critic Aleksei Navalny say their client’s pretrial detention is illegal as several procedural regulations were violated while processing the case. Navalny’s website on January 22 made public an appeal filed by lawyers Olga Mikhailova and Vadim Kobzev a day earlier with the Moscow City Court against the 44-year-old opposition politician’s arrest. According to the lawyers, the decision was made by a team of illegally composed judges, there was no deliberations room in the makeshift court, and the defendant’s right to have lawyers present during proceedings and his right to privately discuss the case with them was ignored. They also said the judicial process was not held in accordance with the law.

The Moscow Times: Social media platforms are taking down Russians’ calls to protest in support of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny over the government’s claims that they illegally incite minors to attend unauthorized rallies. Navalny was detained and jailed for a month shortly after returning to Russia from Germany, where he had been hospitalized with what Western scientists determined to be nerve agent poisoning. After he called on his supporters to stage nationwide street protests on Saturday, videos and posts promoting the rallies quickly went viral, primarily on youth-friendly video app TikTok.

The Moscow Times: European Council chief Charles Michel demanded the “immediate release” of Russian opposition activist Alexei Navalny in a call with President Vladimir Putin on Friday. The EU had already condemned an attempt to assassinate Navalny and his arrest on his return to Russia after treatment, but Michel has now expressed “grave concerns” directly to Putin.

Meduza: Almost a week ago, Alexey Navalny flew home to Russia, surrounded by a phalanx of journalists. Large crowds of cheering supporters awaited him at the airport, but his most important welcome party was a group of police officers who promptly arrested him after his plane landed. Since Monday, January 18, Navalny’s home has been an isolation cell at Moscow’s Matrosskaya Tishina prison. Meanwhile, upcoming protests in support of Navalny, planned for tomorrow, January 23, have become one of the main trending topics on TikTok in Russia. Videos about Navalny have been viewed more than 200 million times, and Russia’s federal censor has ordered TikTok to remove “content calling for minors using the social network to participate in illegal mass protest events.” Meduza looks at how content creators are using the protests to gain followers, and whether TikTok can serve as an effective protest tool in Russia.

Human Rights in Ukraine: Exactly six years ago, Russia launched a conveyor belt of persecution in occupied Crimea which it is now using on a mass scale, including against Crimean Tatar civic activists and journalists. Both the armed searches and arrests on 23 January 2015, and the subsequent ‘trial’ of four Crimean Tatars were clearly ‘test runs’, with the FSB organizing remakes of Ruslan Zeytullaev’s ‘trial’ until they got the sentence needed for their paperwork.  After recent ‘trials’ where Russian prosecutors have demanded, and where judges have compliantly provided 17-19-year sentences without any crime, it is worth recalling Russia’s first illegal trial of four Crimean Tatars from Sevastopol.  Most features of the case, including the lack of any recognizable crime and charges based solely on a ‘kitchen chat’ about religion and politics and ‘testimony’ from a secret witness, were identical to those used later.  The only difference lay in the significantly lower sentences originally handed down.

RAPSI: Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has introduced a bill envisaging that state officials appointed by the Head of the State could stay on their posts without age limits into the State Duma. According to an explanatory note to the document, the measure is to be applied only in exceptional cases. At present, civil servants are to be dismissed on reaching the age of 65, and senior civil servants – of 70.

RAPSI: Several Russian lawmakers have submitted a bill to relieve owners of emergency vehicles with flashing blue emergency beacons from administrative liability for traffic violations to the State Duma. Amendments are proposed to the Code on Administrative Offences. According to the draft law’s sponsors, state bodies often shift the administrative responsibility onto the vehicles’ drivers, including even ambulance ones, who just perform urgent work tasks and beg to violate the set traffic rules.  Authors of the initiative are MPs Igor Lebedev, Yaroslav Nilov, Dmitry Svishchev and Andrey Svintsov. 

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