News of the Day: 26 March 2021

Amnesty International; Human Rights Watch: To: Frank Schwabe, Legal Affairs and Human Rights Rapporteur on human rights in the North Caucasus, PACE; Teresa Ribeiro, Representative on Freedom of the Media, OSCE. On behalf of Russian and international NGOs addressing human rights violations in the North Caucasus, Committee against Torture Human Rights Centre “Memorial” The “Sphere” Foundation/Russian LGBT Network Amnesty International Civil Rights Defenders Human Rights Watch Norwegian Helsinki Committee We would like to draw your attention to very serious threats by Chechen authorities to Novaya Gazeta and one of their leading investigative journalists, Elena Milashina, in connection with their reporting on human rights abuses in Chechnya.

Reporters without Borders: Reporters Without Borders (RSF) fears that detained Crimean journalist Vladislav Yesypenko’s televised “confession” to being a spy for the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) was obtained under torture and calls for his release and the withdrawal of all charges against him.

The Moscow Times: Russia has confirmed 4,492,692 cases of coronavirus and 96,612 deaths, according to the national coronavirus information center. According to figures published by state statistics agency Rosstat, Russia’s real coronavirus death toll stands at 131,118, with the virus present in another 69,314 deaths.

The Moscow Times: Jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny fears losing his leg in a penal colony where he is serving two and a half years, he said in an Instagram post Friday. Navalny’s lawyers warned this week that his life may be in danger because of four weeks of severe back pain and loss of sensation in one of his legs. Prison authorities said Navalny is in “stable and satisfactory” condition, a claim dismissed by his allies. In his latest post shared by members of his social media team, Navalny accused prison doctors of withholding his diagnosis after examining him last week.

RFE/RL: The United States and the European Union have reiterated their calls for Russia to immediately release of Aleksei Navalny, after the jailed opposition politician said he was suffering from severe back pains and that “nothing” was being done by prison authorities to solve the problem. In a message posted on his Instagram account on March 26, Navalny also said he had been warned by past prominent prisoners that getting sick in prison was potentially fatal. “Once Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who served 10 years in prison, told me: The main thing is not to get sick there,” the post said, referring to the owner of the former oil giant Yukos who spent a decade behind bars after being convicted in two controversial cases. “Nobody will treat you. If you get seriously ill, you will die,” he quoted Khodorkovsky as telling him.

RFE/RL: “Did they want to kill him?” wondered Jamison Firestone in a November 2009 interview with RFE/RL’s Russian Service. “I don’t know.” Firestone was the managing partner of Firestone Duncan, a Moscow law firm that hired Sergei Magnitsky to look into suspicions of massive tax fraud and theft in the takeover of companies belonging to the investment firm Hermitage Capital Management. Magnitsky died after 358 days in a Moscow pretrial-remand prison on November 16, 2009. He had not been charged with any crime. “Magnitsky showed that a group of Interior Ministry officers were guilty of embezzling from the state budget the sum of $230 million,” Firestone said. “And these officers were among the group that arrested him. They did this in order to silence him. After his arrest, they had to justify their actions and create some accusations. It took them 10 months to fabricate their nonsensical story,” he said. “Clearly, the investigators were trying to force him to confess to things that were not true.”

The Moscow Times: An independent Russian journalist and elections expert has reported receiving threats toward his family and surveillance over his article about a regional elections official seeking re-election to the State Duma this September.  Vasily Weissenberg, an expert at the independent Golos election monitor, had published an article about Andrei Gibert, the head of the Yamal-Nenets autonomous district’s electoral commission. The article alleges that Gibert’s salary is several times higher than that of fellow regional election officials and surpasses that of the Yamal-Nenets governor.

RFE/RL: Reporters Without Borders (RSF) says it fears that a detained Crimean journalist’s televised “confession” to spying on behalf of Ukraine was obtained under torture and has called for his immediate release and the withdrawal of the charges against him. In a statement on March 26, Jeanne Cavelier, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk, expressed concern about “the psychological and physical pressure” Vladislav Yesypenko has been subjected to. Cavelier also condemned the ban on access to his lawyer.

RFE/RL: A Russian woman serving a prison sentence on high treason charges has started a hunger strike to protest against being put in solitary confinement for complaining about beatings, her lawyer says. Antonina Zimina’s lawyer told RFE/RL on March 26 that her client has been on hunger strike for four days in a detention center in Kaliningrad, the capital of Russia’s far western exclave of the same name. In late December 2020, Zimina and her husband, Konstantin Antonets, were found guilty of spying for Latvia. Antonets was handed a 12 1/2 year prison sentence. The couple has denied any wrongdoing ever since they were first arrested in July 2018.

The Moscow Times: Maria Alyokhina is no stranger to being prosecuted for her politics. The veteran Pussy Riot member is best known for her role in the group’s “Punk Prayer,” the provocative February 2012 protest in neon balaclavas at Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral. She and fellow activist Nadya Tolokonnikova would spend two years in a prison colony for the act. Nearly a decade later, Alyokhina, 32, once again finds herself at odds with the authorities as she may face up to two years in prison for an Instagram post demanding the release of political prisoners following the jailing of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny.  Speaking to The Moscow Times from house arrest, Alyokhina said she is encouraged by the outpouring of support from the West calling for the release of Russian political prisoners like herself.  “When European and Western politicians stay silent, it leads to us being imprisoned,” Alyokhina said.

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