News of the Day: 26 April 2021

The Guardian: Russia’s prosecutor has suspended the activities of Alexei Navalny’s nationwide political organisation ahead of a court ruling that is expected to outlaw the opposition movement as “extremist” and threaten supporters with long jail terms. In a decision published on Monday, the prosecutor banned his regional headquarters from holding opposition rallies or engaging in elections activity pending a landmark court decision that could cripple the democratic opposition to Vladimir Putin. The designation is part of a sweeping crackdown on Navalny’s activities, from sentencing the Kremlin critic to a two-and-a-half-year prison term to dozens of arrests of his top aides and regional staff.

RFE/RL: The Moscow City Prosecutor’s Office has suspended all activities at the offices of jailed opposition politician Aleksei Navalny’s headquarters across the country and asked the Moscow City Court to do the same for Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) and the Citizens’ Rights Protection Foundation (FZPG). Vladimir Voronin, a lawyer for the FBK, said on April 26 that the prosecutor’s office made the decision to suspend the activities of Navalny’s headquarters on its own, but needed to ask the court to suspend the activities of the FBK and the FZPG because it didn’t have the authority to do so. The court will decide on this motion on the same day, he added.* Ivan Zhdanov, the director of the FBK, said in a tweet that the ban will remain in effect until a decision is taken by the court on an application by the Moscow prosecutor’s office to classify the organizations as extremist. “They are screaming out with this move: We are afraid of your activities, we are afraid of your rallies, we are afraid of smart voting,” Ivan Zhdanov, the director of the FBK, said in a tweet on April 26. The post also included a photo of the motion from the prosecutors.

RFE/RL: The state prosecutor spearheading a potentially devastating bid to brand Aleksei Navalny’s network of organizations “extremist” is no stranger to the Kremlin foe: In 2019, a report by Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) alleged that the lawman’s family controlled undeclared property worth millions of dollars. The plaintiff in the case under which the FBK, the Citizens’ Rights Defense Foundation (FPZG), and Navalny’s offices nationwide could be declared extremist is the head of the Moscow city prosecutor’s office, Denis Popov. Popov’s signature also stands at the bottom of an April 26 order freezing the activities of Navalny’s network of regional branches pending the outcome of the Moscow City Court’s closed-door hearings. His office has also asked the court to do the same with the FBK and the FPZG.

Amnesty International: Responding to the news that the Moscow City Prosecutor’s Office has suspended the activities of Aleksei Navalny’s regional offices until the court rules whether they should be banned as “extremist” alongside two other organizations created by Navalny, Marie Struthers, Amnesty International’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia Director, said: “The audacity and scale of this cynical attack are unprecedented, effectively suppressing the rights to freedom of expression and association of thousands. If and when the decision is taken to outlaw the targeted organizations, Navalny’s supporters, who are effectively the largest political opposition group in the country, could face criminal prosecution for any legitimate political activism or human rights work.

CPJ: Russian authorities should reverse their decision to designate independent media outlets Meduza and PASMI as foreign agents, and should repeal or reform the country’s foreign agent law, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. On April 23, Russia’s Justice Ministry added the independent Latvia-based news website Meduza to its list of “foreign agents,” thereby imposing new legal requirements on the outlet for it to continue operating in Russia, according to a statement by Meduza, news reports, and the outlet’s chief editor Ivan Kolpakov, who spoke with CPJ via messaging app. On the same day, the ministry also added PASMI, a Russia-based news outlet that covers alleged corruption, to that list, according to those reports. The outlet’s CEO and acting chief editor Dmitry Verbitsky told local outlet MBKh Media that PASMI did not receive any foreign funding and speculated that its addition to the list was “a mistake.”

RFE/RL: A journalist from Siberia who had to leave her native city of Kiselyovsk in the Siberian region of Kemerovo earlier this year after she was attacked says she has fled Russia fearing for her safety. Natalya Zubkova, the chief editor of the News of Kiselyovsk website, told RFE/RL on April 26 that she moved to an unspecified country a week ago after police and an investigator from Kiselyovsk visited her at her new residence in the Urals city of Yekaterinburg to question her as “a witness” in a criminal case. Zubkova said she refused to answer any questions and called her lawyer. According to her, the case might be an another move in ongoing attempts by Kiselyovsk authorities to take her daughter from her in retaliation for her articles criticizing authorities in the Kemerovo region for the “illegal widening of coal-mining territories” in the region.

RFE/RL: A Moscow court has increased from one minute to two hours the time allowed outside each day for three of the four editors of the student magazine Doxa, who are accused of “engaging minors in actions that might be dangerous” over a video related to unsanctioned rallies protesting opposition politician Aleksei Navalny’s incarceration. The Moscow City Court on April 26 upheld a lower court’s decision to impose pretrial restrictions for Armen Aramyan, Vladimir Metyolkin, and Natalya Tyshkevich, but mitigated the restrictions, ruling that the trio is allowed outside for two hours daily from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. A decision on the appeal of the fourth editor in the case, Alla Gutnikova, is expected to be made by the court on April 28.

Human Rights in Ukraine: A Russian court has sentenced 31-year-old Rayis Mavliutov to 23 years’ harsh regime imprisonment despite his having committed no recognizable crime.  As has been the case in all analogous trials involving Muslims and Jehovah’s Witnesses from occupied Crimea, the ‘indictment’ pointed only to legal activities normal for any devout believer.  This has been the case since Russia began such gravely flawed trials, with the main ominous difference lying in ever-increasing sentences. Nelya Mavliutova has shared photos of her son whom she describes as an ordinary young guy of his generation.  He graduated from a theatrical college in Kazan and also entered a music college.  He likes singing and has a particular love for jazz, but he’s also a football player and fan, with his favourite team Barcelona.  He is married but the couple had not begun a family when, on 23 September 2019, he was arrested, the latest victim of Russia’s conveyor belt persecution of Muslims seen as being too independent.  He has long been recognized by the authoritative Memorial Human Rights Centre as a political prisoner.  

The Moscow Times: Russia and the rest of the world increased military spending in 2020 despite the coronavirus pandemic, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) think tank said in a new report Monday. In a second consecutive year of growth, Russia’s military expenditure rose 2.5% to $61.7 billion, placing it fourth in the world behind the United States, China and India. Despite the increase, SIPRI said Russia spent significantly less on its military than initially expected. “Russia’s actual military spending in 2020 was 6.6% lower than its initial military budget, a larger shortfall than in previous years,” it said.

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