News of the Day: 24 February 2021

RFE/RL: A Russian court has sentenced a mother and her son to prison as part of ongoing persecution of the Jehovah’s Witnesses religious group. A court in Abakan in the Siberian region of Khakassia on February 24 sentenced Roman Baranovsky to six years in prison and his mother, Valentina Baranovskaya, to two years, the group said. Baranovskaya, 69, is the first woman to be imprisoned from the religious group. Last year, she suffered a stroke.

RFE/RL: Chechnya’s top court has ruled that the arrest of two young gay men was legal amid growing concern over their safety and lack of legal representation in the North Caucasus region know for abuses against LGBT people. The court ruling on February 24 comes after Salekh Magamadov, 18, and a 17-year-old companion were abducted by security agents earlier in the month from Nizhny Novgorod in western Russia and driven back to Chechnya. RFE/RL is not revealing the identity of the second teenager because he is a minor. The two are accused of providing food to an illegal armed group and could face up to 15 years in prison if convicted. They are currently being held in pretrial detention. According to the Russian LGBT Network, a rights group, the young men were forced to sign statements and testimonies under threats and pressure.

The Moscow Times: Moscow police have blocked supporters of slain opposition politician Boris Nemtsov from laying flowers at the site of his death on a bridge steps away from the Kremlin. Nemtsov’s supporters have maintained and guarded a makeshift memorial at the site where he was shot dead on Feb. 27, 2015, day and night for nearly six years. Organizers of the annual march in Nemtsov’s memory announced that this year’s event would be canceled due to the pandemic, calling on supporters to lay flowers at his memorial instead and asking city authorities not to interfere. Over the long holiday weekend, police removed the memorial and detained several activists, citing a local order to keep the site clear, according to the Nemtsov Most (Nemtsov Bridge) volunteer organization. 

RFE/RL: Prosecutors have asked a court in the city of Samara in Russia to sentence civil rights activist Karim Yamadayev from Russia’s Republic of Tatarstan to six years and seven months in prison for mocking President Vladimir Putin and two of his close associates in a YouTube video. Pavel Chikov, the chief of the Agora nongovernmental legal-aid organization, quoted Yamadayev’s lawyer, Vladimir Krasikov, on February 24 as saying that the prosecutor had asked the court to find the defendant guilty of promoting terrorism and insulting authorities.

RFE/RL: Executives of U.S. technology companies told lawmakers on February 23 that a recent breach of corporate and government networks was so sophisticated that a nation had to be behind it and said all the evidence points to Russia. The hearing was the first to examine the hack, which was discovered by private security company FireEye in December. It was later revealed that hackers slipped malicious code into updates of network-management software made by the U.S. company SolarWinds, which was then downloaded by several branches of the U.S. government and several U.S. and European corporations. U.S. intelligence officials and industry sources had previously blamed the intrusion on Russian hackers. Moscow has denied any involvement.

The Guardian: Amnesty International has said it will cease calling Alexei Navalny a “prisoner of conscience”, following pressure to condemn anti-migrant statements he made in the 2000s as hate speech. Employees of Amnesty International said the organisation had received messages about Navalny’s past remarks that they felt “were part of a coordinated campaign to discredit him abroad”, but nonetheless felt compelled to change his designation. “Yes, we are no longer going to use the phrase ‘prisoner of conscience’ in regards to [Navalny] insofar as our law and policy department, having reviewed Navalny’s remarks from the mid-2000s, came to the conclusion that they meet the level of ‘hate speech’,” Alexander Artemev, Amnesty International’s media manager for Europe and central Asia, told TV Rain. In a crowing tweet, the head of Russia’s state-funded TV network RT, Margarita Simonyan, wrote that the west was “crying that this came after our columnist used concrete examples that reminded everyone he [Navalny] is a Nazi”.

RFE/RL: Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed into law bills that beef up fines for violating a controversial law on “foreign agents” as well as other legislation relating to protests, such as the financing of rallies and disobedience of law enforcement, in the wake of unsanctioned protests in support of opposition politician Aleksei Navalny. According to the laws, signed by Putin on February 24, releasing information about so-called “foreign agents” and their materials without also indicating their status could lead to fines of up to 2,500 rubles ($34) for individuals and up to 500,000 rubles ($6,720) for entities. The law applies regardless of whether the “foreign agent” in question is a mass media outlet or an individual.

The Moscow Times: Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a handful of new laws Wednesday that impose heavy fines on protesters and “foreign agents,” as well as on social media giants accused of “discriminating” against Russian media. Observers have described legislators’ recent activity as part of the Kremlin’s efforts to tighten restrictions on dissent ahead of this fall’s parliamentary elections, which will take place amid simmering public anger over falling incomes.  Here’s a look at some of the laws that Putin approved in a post-holiday signing spree: Unruly protesters – Putin increased fines for protesters who are found guilty of disobeying law enforcement orders to between 2,000 and 4,000 rubles ($27 and $55, respectively). Repeat violations are subject to fines of 10,000-20,000 rubles ($135-270) or up to 30 days in jail. Putin also imposed fines of up to 20,000 rubles for violating fundraising rules while organizing protests, including for money transfers by nonprofits labeled as “foreign agents.” ‘Foreign agent’ mentions – Russians can now be fined up to 2,500 rubles for sharing information about “foreign agents” or republishing their work without referring to them with the designation.  The “foreign agents” themselves, including politically active individuals or organizations, can be fined up to half a million rubles ($6,800) for publishing their own materials without the “foreign agent” label.  The law takes effect March 1. ‘Prejudiced’ IT giants – Social media giants YouTube, Facebook and Twitter can now be fined up to 1 million rubles ($13,600) for ignoring government warnings about prejudice toward Russian users. Repeat violations are subject to fines of up to 3 million rubles ($41,000).  Previously passed legislation already allows Russia to block platforms that are found to “discriminate” against Russian media.

Leave a Reply