News of the Day: 23 December 2020

RFE/RL: The prosecutor in a high-profile trial in Moscow has asked a court to sentence Azat Miftakhov, a mathematician who says he was tortured in custody, to six years in prison on hooliganism charges. Miftakhov’s lawyer, Svetlana Sidorkina, said on December 23 that the defendant, who has rejected all of the charges and believes he was targeted by police because of his anarchist views, and his lawyers will testify as the process resumes on December 25. Miftakhov, 25, a postgraduate mathematics student at Moscow State University, was arrested on February 1, 2019, and accused of helping make an improvised bomb found in January in the city of Balashikha near Moscow. The Public Monitoring Commission, a human rights group, has said that Miftakhov’s body bore the signs of torture, which the student claimed were the result of investigators unsuccessfully attempting to force him to confess to the bomb-making charge. Others who were detained along with Miftakhov, but later released, have also claimed to have been beaten by the police. Miftakhov was released on February 7, 2019, after the initial charge failed to hold, but he was rearrested immediately and charged with involvement in an arson attack on the ruling United Russia party’s office in Moscow in January 2018. A prominent Russian human rights organization, Memorial, has declared Miftakhov a political prisoner.

Meduza: Moscow’s Perovsky District Court has fined Lyubov Sobol, a lawyer for Alexey Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK), 1,000 rubles (about $13) following her arrest near the home of Konstantin Kudryavtsev — one of the FSB operatives allegedly involved in poisoning Navalny. The court found Sobol guilty of disobeying a police officer (under article 19.3 of the Administrative Code), Interfax reported on Wednesday, December 23, citing the court’s press service.

The Moscow Times: Russian lawmakers took first steps Wednesday to formally allow President Vladimir Putin to stay in power until 2036. Current law limits the Russian presidency to two consecutive terms, requiring Putin, 68, to step down in 2024. But a clause within a set of constitutional reforms approved in a nationwide vote this summer allows Putin to ignore current limits and run for two more six-year terms. A bill submitted to Russian parliament last month officially resets the number of terms served by current and former presidents.  Members of the lower-house State Duma voted Wednesday in favor of the bill in its first of three readings. The draft law will then need backing from senators and a signature from Putin in order to become law, a step considered a formality for the Kremlin-backed legislature.

RFE/RL: The Russian parliament’s lower chamber has approved several controversial bills that human rights watchdogs and the opposition have said undermine democratic processes. Among the legislation approved by the State Duma on December 23 was a series of amendments to the controversial law on “foreign agents” that requires organizations that have received the designation to report their activities and face financial audits. The changes expand the scope of individuals and groups that can be designated “foreign agents,” introduce new restrictions and registration and reporting requirements, and oblige the media to note the designation whenever they mention these individuals or groups. The new law says individuals, including foreign journalists, involved in Russia’s political developments or collecting materials and data related to Russia’s defense or national security issues must be included on the list of foreign agents. It also says that individuals labeled as “foreign agents” would be banned from joining the civil service or holding a municipal government position, while forcing them to mark their letters to authorities and other material with a “foreign agent” label. Last month, Amnesty International slammed the proposed legislation saying it would “drastically limit and damage the work not only of civil society organizations that receive funds from outside Russia but many other groups as well.” Another bill related to “foreign agents” and approved on December 23 lays out a punishment of up to five years in prison for individuals or organizations labeled as foreign agents who fail to inform official entities about their status, and/or refuse to report their activities to Russian authorities.

The Moscow Times: Russian lawmakers passed a bill Tuesday to ban the public dissemination of data about security and law enforcement members. The move follows leading opposition figure Alexei Navalny’s viral YouTube video of a phone call with one of his alleged poisoners. That agent and other purported Federal Security Service (FSB) agents’ identities were revealed by the investigative outlet Bellingcat, which regularly uses phone records and flight manifests obtained on the black market in its investigations. The latest piece of legislation prohibits the sharing of information about police and investigators as well as Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) and FSB agents. The new law will protect security members’ personal data “regardless of direct threats to their security,” an explanatory note states. Previous legislation made it a criminal offense to share the security members’ data when doing so threatened their lives.

Meduza: This month, Russian lawmakers approved legislation that will allow the state to withhold information about the people who work in the judiciary, law enforcement, and regulatory oversight agencies — from the FSB to the Accounts Chamber (which itself compiles the transparency ratings for Russia’s federal agencies). We asked the authors of high-profile investigative reports how this new policy would have affected their research, and how they plan to continue their work once the bill is adopted.

The Guardian: Russian authorities could gain powers to restrict access to US social media sites found to discriminate against Russian media, and to levy big fines on platforms that do not delete banned content, under bills passed by the parliament’s lower house. The authors of the two bills said infractions by YouTube and Facebook demonstrated the need for the legislation, which is part of a push to increase Russia’s internet sovereignty and has fuelled fears of creeping China-style controls. The first bill would allow Russia to restrict access to or fully block websites, following what lawmakers said were complaints from state outlets that their accounts were being treated with prejudice by Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.

The Moscow Times: Ruslan Shaveddinov, an associate of Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny, has returned to Moscow following a year of forced military service in the Arctic, the Mediazona news website reported.  Shaveddinov worked for Alexei Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) which leads investigations into corrupt individuals among the Kremlin’s ruling elite. In December 2019, men in uniform broke into Shaveddinov’s apartment in the middle of the night and he was sent to the Novaya Zemlya archipelago to complete a year of military service.  

RAPSI: Moscow’s Basmanny District Court on Wednesday extended house arrest of the leader of the movement For New Socialism Nikolay Platoshkin charged with aiding and abetting mass riots and distribution of misleading information until spring, the court’s press service told RAPSI. He will remain under house arrest until March 2, 2021. Platoshkin is a Russian diplomat, political analyst and historian, head of diplomacy and international affairs department of the Moscow Humanitarian University, leader of the movement For New Socialism.

The Moscow Times: Kremlin-linked businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin has sued Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny and a close ally for defamation, a Moscow court said Tuesday. The lawsuit appeared Tuesday on the website of a Moscow court, which later told the Russian news agency TASS that the claim sought 5 million rubles ($66,000) each from Navalny and his ally Vladimir Milov for defamatory statements.

RFE/RL: “It wasn’t easy,” artist Kirill Gorodetsky wrote on Facebook on December 20: It took years for him to gain access to the documents of the NKVD, Stalin’s secret police, and finally “read the story of the destruction of my great-grandfather’s family.” “Someone really doesn’t want me to know my family’s history,” he added. December 20, a date on which Russia each year marks a professional holiday celebrating the “organs of state security,” is the anniversary of the 1917 founding of the Soviet secret police by Bolshevik official Feliks Dzerzhinsky. Gorodetsky noted that in the corridor of the building where he read the file of his family’s case there hung a banner celebrating decades of “protecting law and order.” Until this month, Gorodetsky had almost no idea what had happened to his family. “I knew that my great-grandfather, Mikhail Bart, was an interesting and successful and talented man,” the artist told RFE/RL’s Russian Service. “At home we had some nice old furniture that once belonged to him. But what happened to him personally, no one knew.”

RAPSI: The State Duma had approved in the third and final reading a bill on increased use of the Unified Biometric Identification System, Chairman of the Association of Russian Lawyers Vladimir Gruzdev told RAPSI on Wednesday. Banks collect biometrics, citizens may conduct this procedure on the voluntary basis. The system allows banks to open accounts, take deposits, or give credits to citizens without their personal appearance. Biometric data may be used by state bodies to identify citizens. In certain cases, state services may be provided without presenting passports, Gruzdev said.

RAPSI: The State Duma has approved in the third and final reading a bill criminalizing willful evasion of responsibility to present documents necessary for registration as a foreign agent, according to a statement published on the official website of the lower house of Russia’s Parliament. The document envisages punishments for failure to present the required data ranging from fines up to 300,000 rubles ($4,000), or equal to the amount of salaries or other incomes of the person convicted for such a violation received over a period up to 2 years, or compulsory community service for up to 480 hours, or corrective labor for up to 2 years, or imprisonment for the same time, the statement reads.

Leave a Reply