News of the Day: 24 March 2021

The Moscow Times: Chechen authorities have detained dozens of relatives of two gay men who were forcibly returned to the southern Russian region to face terrorism charges, a rights group told the independent Dozhd broadcaster Wednesday. The Moscow-based LGBT Network rights group said Salekh Magamadov, 20, and Ismail Isayev, 18, fled Chechnya last year but were arrested and returned in February on accusations of aiding an illegal armed group. The brothers face up to 15 years in prison if convicted on the charges that rights activists call fabricated.

The Guardian: Alexei Navalny has complained of a “sharp deterioration” in his health in prison and has been blocked from meeting lawyers, a senior aide to the Russian opposition leader has said. Navalny has reported “serious back pain” and numbness in one of his legs that has left him unable to stand on it, Leonid Volkov said on Wednesday. Navalny’s lawyers said they had been blocked from meeting him on Wednesday and they suspected that he was in an infirmary in the IK-2 prison colony in the Vladimir region. “We don’t understand where Alexei Navalny is or why he is being hidden from his lawyers,” they said, adding that they suspected the prison administration was trying to cover up his possible hospitalisation.

RFE/RL: Authorities in the Russian-occupied Ukrainian region of Crimea have detained another Jehovah’s Witness amid an ongoing crackdown against the religious group. Russia’s Investigative Committee said on March 24 that a 30-year-old resident of the city of Kerch, whose identity was not disclosed, was detained on suspicion of being a member of the group, which was labeled as extremist and banned in Russia in 2017 but is legal in Ukraine.

The Moscow Times: Russia will probe an artistic exhibition of preserved human corpses after the display sparked an uproar among conservative religious groups and public figures. German anatomist Gunter von Hagens’ traveling “Body Worlds” exhibition opened at Moscow’s VDNKh exhibition center on March 12. Its display of donated human bodies and organs aims to educate visitors “by looking inside a stranger’s body to discover our own in a completely new way.”  Russian Investigative Committee chief Alexander Bastrykin ordered a probe into the exhibition to assess its “goals, content and purpose” as well as its compliance with Russian law, the investigative body said in a statement Wednesday.

RFE/RL: The Russian parliament’s lower chamber, the State Duma, has approved the third and final reading of a bill aligning election laws with recent changes to the constitution that among other things allow for the possibility of President Vladimir Putin to stay in power until 2036. The bill, approved on March 24, still requires the approval of parliament’s upper chamber, the Federation Council, as well as Putin’s signature. The constitutional amendments initiated in January 2020 by the 68-year-old Putin, who has been running the country as prime minister or president since late-1999, were approved in March 2020 by the State Duma. One clause in the amendments reset Putin’s term-limit clock to zero, allowing him to seek reelection when his current term expires in 2024, and again in 2030 if he wishes. Under the current election laws, the president is forbidden from seeking a third consecutive six-year term.

RFE/RL: Russia’s Investigative Committee has launched an investigation into comments made by a notorious convicted rapist, known as the “Maniac of Skopin,” about one of his victims during an interview he gave three weeks after his release from prison. The committee said in a statement on March 23 that its chief, Aleksandr Bastrykin, had ordered the committee’s Main Investigative Directorate to evaluate the statements Viktor Mokhov made in his interview with popular journalist Ksenia Sobchak. The comments were included in a documentary about Mokhov that was placed on Sobchak’s YouTube channel on March 22, immediately igniting a public outcry.

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