News of the Day: 25 February 2021

RFE/RL: Russian opposition political leader Aleksei Navalny has been moved from the Moscow detention center where he has been held since mid-January and is believed to be en route to a prison where he will begin serving a 2 1/2 year sentence. Navalny’s lawyer, Vadim Kobzev, made the announcement on February 25 without providing any further details. The Russian authorities typically do not provide information about the transfer of prisoners until after they reach their destination, which could be anywhere in the country. On February 2, a Moscow court changed a 3 1/2-year suspended sentence that was handed down to Navalny in 2014 to a custodial sentence after ruling that the 44-year-old anti-corruption crusader had violated the terms of the earlier court decision. After deducting time already served in custody, the court ruled Navalny must spend 2 1/2 years in prison.

Amnesty International: Amnesty International defines a prisoner of conscience (POC) as a person who has been deprived of their liberty solely because of their conscientiously held beliefs, or for discriminatory reasons relating to their ethnicity, sexuality, gender, or other identity, who has not used violence or advocated violence or hatred. Claims that Amnesty’s decision on Aleksei Navalny was a response to external pressure are untrue and ignore our longstanding and detailed internal policy. Amnesty International opposed Aleksei Navalny’s arrest and imprisonment in Moscow in January 2021, which took place in the context of a widespread and brutal crackdown on peaceful activists and government opposition by the Russian authorities. Tens of thousands were arrested in protests against the government of President Vladimir Putin, and we issued repeated calls for protesters’ rights to be respected, as well as for an independent investigation into the alleged poisoning of Aleksei Navalny.  

RFE/RL: Russia’s Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN) says investigations have been launched against an unspecified number of guards at a prison in Siberia following reports about the brutal torture of inmates. The FSIN said on February 25 that probes were also begun against 10 inmates who allegedly tortured Tahirjon Bakiev, adding that it had yet to confirm the incidents were motivated by his ethnicity. human rights group reported in December and then again this month about two other cases of torture at correctional facilities in Irkutsk. The groups said that one inmate, Kezhik Ondar, was raped by inmates in Detention Center No. 1 in Irkutsk. Ondar suffered severe internal injuries in the attack and is now disabled. The second inmate, whom identified as Bakiev, was raped after inmates beat him and desecrated a Koran in front of him. He was then kept under a cell bed for two days. The penitentiary administration allegedly then prevented him from sharing his ordeal with his wife, Anastasia Bakieva, and other relatives by not allowing him to call home for more than one month.

Human Rights in Ukraine: The trial has begun in Russian-occupied Sevastopol of Halyna Dovhopola who will be 66 in March, and has spent well over a year imprisoned in Moscow on mystery charges of ‘spying’ for Ukraine.  The country which invaded and annexed Ukrainian Crimea is illegally applying the norm in its criminal code on ‘state treason’ in its trial of the elderly Ukrainian. According to the Crimean Human Rights Group, the proceedings were registered with the Russian-controlled Sevastopol City Court on 4 February 2021, with the preliminary hearing taking place on 17 February. Such preliminary hearings are always behind closed doors, however it seems likely that the entire ‘trial’ will be hidden from the public.  Russia’s FSB have been seizing Ukrainians either in occupied Crimea or in Russia and charging them with ‘spying’ since mid-2014, with the secrecy behind all of these cases making it very easy to fabricate evidence and to use illegal methods to extract ‘confessions’ and obtain sentences of 12 years or more.   It was typical in this respect that the Crimean Human Rights Group was only able to identify the woman whom the FSB arrested in November 2019 when the first 2-month detention period was extended in January 2020.

RFE/RL: A shaman in the Siberian region of Yakutia, who has had several attempts to march to Moscow on foot “to drive President Vladimir Putin out of the Kremlin” stopped by the authorities, has been accused of attacking a police officer. Aleksei Pryanishnikov, legal coordinator for the opposition group Open Russia, said on February 24 that police in Yakutia’s capital, Yakutsk, had launched a probe against Aleksandr Gabyshev, accusing him of a “violent act against a police officer” when he was forcibly taken from his home to a psychiatric clinic in late January. No further details were immediately available.

The Moscow Times: Moscow authorities have allocated more than $10 million to purchase and install across the city’s sprawling metro system high-definition cameras that can recognize faces and track fast movements, Russian media reported Thursday. Russia’s capital Moscow in recent years has developed a vast network of some 100,000 facial recognition cameras, sparking concerns from activists over state surveillance.  Those concerns were heightened in the wake of protests in January and early February over the jailing of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny after demonstrators and activists claimed police had tracked down people present at the rallies using facial recognition technology. On Thursday, the Kommersant business daily reported that Moscow city officials have allocated another $12.5 million to expand that system.

The Moscow Times: A pair of notorious Russian pranksters duped top Amnesty International directors into saying their widely panned move to revoke jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny’s “prisoner of conscience” status caused damage. Amnesty was hit with widespread backlash for the decision Wednesday, with critics saying the group had caved in to a “targeted campaign” to discredit Navalny by figures linked to pro-Kremlin media. The organization cited Navalny’s past nationalist and anti-immigrant rhetoric in its decision to remove the label but said it would continue to push for his release. In the call, three Amnesty officials discuss the fallout from the day’s events with the pranksters known as Vovan and Lexus, who pose as top Navalny aide Leonid Volkov. “We are conscious that what happened has done a lot of damage,” Denis Krivosheev, Amnesty’s vice president of Europe and Central Asia, says on the 15-minute Zoom call published to Vovan and Lexus’ YouTube channel Thursday. A spokeswoman for Amnesty International Russia told The Moscow Times that the video of the call posted on YouTube is authentic but declined to comment further.

The Moscow Times: On the night of Aug. 23 1991, as a coup attempt by communist hardliners bent on preserving the dissolving Soviet Union collapsed, Sergei Stankevich rushed to the KGB headquarters on Moscow’s Lubyanka Square. With victorious anti-coup Muscovites preparing to pull down the statue of Soviet secret police founder Felix Dzherzinsky outside the building, Stankevich — then a lawmaker in the Moscow City Soviet — had been appointed by his colleagues to ensure that the eleven ton statue was toppled without damaging the Metro station below. “I told people that we shouldn’t leave ourselves open to accusations of lawlessness or vandalism,” Stankevich told The Moscow Times. “It was history and it had to be done strictly according to the law.” Almost thirty years after the statue fell — for many symbolising the end of the U.S.S.R. — Russian opinion is deeply split on remembrance of the country’s Soviet past and a government-backed vote on whether to restore “Iron Felix” to his former place has become a flashpoint in Russia’s controversial memory politics.

The Moscow Times: A Russian national has been sentenced to 8 years in prison for treason by handing state secrets to China, a court in Siberia announced Thursday. Vladimir Vasilyev, 52, had pleaded guilty to passing state secrets to China’s intelligence services, the state-run TASS news agency quoted an unnamed law enforcement source as saying. He is at least the third Russian citizen to be convicted of state treason this year and the 10th in the past two years. The Zabaikalsky region court in a closed-door trial found Vasilyev guilty of high treason and sentenced him to 8 years in a maximum-security penal colony.

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