News of the Day: 23 April 2021

The Guardian: Alexei Navalny has said he is ending his hunger strike after getting medical attention and being warned by his doctors that continuing it would be life-threatening. In an Instagram post on Friday afternoon, the 24th day of his hunger strike, the imprisoned Russian opposition leader said he would continue to demand a visit from his doctor to address a loss of sensation in his legs and arms – his main demand when launching his hunger strike. But he said he would stop refusing food after getting examined by non-prison doctors. He also acknowledged the mass pro-Navalny protests across Russia on Wednesday. “Thanks to the huge support of good people across the country and around the world, we have made huge progress,” Navalny said in his message. Another reason he was ending the hunger strike he began on 31 March was that some of his supporters were refusing to eat in a show of solidarity with him, Navalny said.

Amnesty International: On Saturday, 23 January 2021, protest rallies against the arbitrary arrest and unfounded, politically motivated prosecution of Aleksei Navalny, a prominent anti-corruption activist and Vladimir Putin’s critic, erupted across Russia and continued for 10 days. Authorities described the protests as “illegal”, citing the country’s unduly restrictive legislation on assemblies, and responded by prosecuting individuals they perceived responsible for encouraging the protests. The Investigative Committee arrested 12 prominent activists in Moscow and Nizhny Novgorod. The Committee claimed the activists had violated COVID-19 related sanitary rules simply for calling for the protests, which in their view amounted to a crime. Russian authorities must stop denying and violating the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and expression, and must not use COVID-19 related restrictions to jail and silence their critics. All those detained solely for calling for, organizing, or participating in peaceful protests must be immediately released.

RSF: Despite measures supposedly designed to limit arbitrary arrests of journalists, at least ten were arrested during demonstrations across Russia on 21 April in support of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, who has been on hunger strike since 31 March. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on the authorities to order the police to let journalists do their job.

Front Line Defenders: On 14 April 2021, law enforcement officers searched the office of the student journal DOXA and the homes of the outlet’s editors, human rights defenders Armen Aramyan, Alla Gutnikova, Vladimir Metelkin, and Natasha Tyshkevich. Later that day, the Basmanny District Court of Moscow issued a two-month restriction order against the four editors, severely restricting their movements and limiting their ability to freely communicate with anyone other than their lawyer. They have been charged with “involvement of two or more minors in committing illegal actions on the Internet”.

RFE/RL: The Russian government has designated the Latvia-based independent Meduza news outlet as a foreign agent — a move that will require it to label itself as such and will subject it to increased government scrutiny. The Russian Justice Ministry made the announcement on April 23 on its website. while Meduza confirmed the news in a tweet. “Hi, everyone! We’re Russia’s latest “foreign agent!” the media outlet said. Russia’s so-called foreign agent legislation was adopted in 2012 and has been modified repeatedly. It requires nongovernmental organizations that receive foreign assistance and that the government deems to be engaged in political activity to be registered, to identify themselves as “foreign agents,” and to submit to audits.

RFE/RL: Security authorities in the Siberian cities of Kemerovo and Novosibirsk say they have apprehended an unspecified number of alleged supporters of the banned Hizb ut-Tahrir Islamic group. Human rights groups have criticized the government’s “abuse” of counterterrorism laws and the use of “secret witnesses” and other methods in prosecuting critics and religious groups to silence dissent. The Federal Security Service (FSB) said on April 21 that alleged members of the group that was banned in the country in 2003 “carried out anti-constitutional activities based on the doctrine of the creation of a world caliphate.” Hizb ut-Tahrir, which is also banned in Central Asia, says its movement is peaceful. The FSB did not say how many suspects have been apprehended. Hizb ut-Tahrir is a global organization based in London that seeks to unite all Muslim countries into an Islamic caliphate, but it says its methods for reaching that goal are peaceful.

The Guardian: The future looked unspeakably grim for Alexei Navalny’s supporters before this week’s protests. Their charismatic leader was in prison and by his doctors’ accounts near death while the Kremlin was threatening to outlaw his entire movement. Sensing a looming apocalypse, one aide dubbed the protest: “The final battle between normal people and absolute evil.” What followed was surprisingly normal: a core of tens of thousands of Navalny supporters rallied near the Kremlin, waving mobile phone torches and chanting “Putin is a thief!” The police stood back in Moscow (there was a violent crackdown in St Petersburg). For an evening, the crowd roved the streets of the capital at will. “This feeling of enthusiasm, of overcoming fear, the protest ended on a positive note … It left me with the feeling that nothing is lost, it’s still not the final battle, and that street protests in Russia are not over forever,” said Ivan Zhdanov, the head of Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation, in an interview from Europe.

RFE/RL: Few if any of the workers and volunteers in structures tied to imprisoned Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny was surprised earlier this month when prosecutors in Moscow began procedures aimed to officially label them “extremist organizations.” “From the very beginning…it was understood that sooner or later this structure would be deemed ‘extremist,'” said Zakhar Sarapulov, head of Navalny’s office in the Siberian city of Irkutsk. “About two months ago we had a staff meeting and we discussed this and predicted that it would happen in the immediate future.” Leonid Volkov, the director of Navalny’s network of regional offices who is currently living abroad out of concern for his safety, told Current Time the same thing.

OpenDemocracy: On 21 April, many Russian cities hosted rallies in support of opposition politician Alexey Navalny, currently on hunger strike in prison – where he is demanding independent medical attention. According to monitoring organisation and legal advice centre OVD-Info, very few people were detained at the protests in Moscow, but almost 2,000 people were detained throughout the country, most of all in St Petersburg. Since returning to Russia after being poisoned, Navalny has set off a chain of protest events across the country – some of which have been violently dispersed, with people reportedly suffering brutal treatment at the hands of the police. Indeed, thousands have been detained at protests in support of Navalny, who is now serving a 2.5 year sentence for violating conditions of his parole.

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