News of the Day: 26 October 2021

The Moscow Times: Russia on Tuesday confirmed 36,446 new Covid-19 infections and a new record of 1,106 deaths.

RFE/RL: A court in Russia’s southwestern city of Astrakhan has sentenced four Jehovah’s witnesses to lengthy prison terms amid an ongoing crackdown of the religious group’s followers across the country. The Investigative Committee said on October 26 that three men were sentenced to eight years in prison each, and a woman to 3 1/2 years in prison on extremism charges.

The Moscow Times: Russian courts have handed lengthy prison sentences to Jehovah’s Witnesses for organizing “extremist” activities over the past week in some of the harshest verdicts given to the religious group’s members yet. Russia outlawed the nonconformist Christian denomination in 2017, subjecting thousands of worshippers to criminal prosecution, harassment and intimidation.

RFE/RL: The father of Ivan Zhdanov, a close associate of jailed opposition politician Aleksei Navalny, has gone on trial on fraud and forgery charges that he and his supporters have rejected as politically motivated since his arrest in March. The trial of 67-year-old Yury Zhdanov opened in Russia’s Arctic city of Naryan-Mar on October 25, his lawyer, Vladimir Voronin, tweeted.

Human Rights in Ukraine: Edem Semedlyaev, one of the lawyers tirelessly defending political prisoners and other victims of repression in occupied Crimea, was detained on 25 October and remains in custody on frighteningly lawless charges.  These were brought against him while he was representing Crimean Tatars, including two Crimean Solidarity journalists, who had been unwarrantedly detained, and after he expressed legitimate protest at the violation of one of the detainee’s rights. 22 men, including a lawyer who had sped to their assistance, have now been detained, without any grounds, and are spending the night in police cells in different parts of occupied Crimea.

Human Rights Watch: Yesterday, Russian authorities arbitrarily arrested lawyer Edem Semedlyaev, while he was advising clients at a police station, who themselves had been arbitrarily arrested. Today court released Semedlyaev pending review of the charges. Semedlyaev is one of the few lawyers who continue to risk working on politically sensitive cases in Crimea. 

Human Rights in Ukraine: The appeal hearing has again been adjourned against monstrous sentences passed on three Crimean Tatar political prisoners, two of whom were almost certainly targeted for their active civic position.  Rustem Emiruseinov (b. 1979); Arsen Abkhairov (b. 1985) and Eskender Abdulganiev (b. 1997) were sentenced to 17, 13 and 12 years, respectively, without being accused of any recognizable crime and with the ‘evidence’ provided by a highly questionable ‘religious expert assessment’ and a ‘secret witness’ who appeared unable to distinguish one defendant from another.  The appeal hearing had been scheduled for 25 October, but was moved to 1 November because Abdulganiev had a high temperature, however one of the men’s lawyers, Edem Semedlyaev and 21 other Crimean Tatars, including two journalists carrying out their professional duties are now also in detention  (details here).

RFE/RL: There are few things held more sacred by the Russian state than the Soviet Union’s role in the defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II, and the conflict that killed an estimated 27 million Soviet citizens still reverberates across Russia. Few families, if any, were left untouched. So when the popular rapper Morgenshtern said that President Vladimir Putin’s government spends far too much money on annual Victory Day celebrations — the Red Square military parade and other ceremonies held on May 9, which Russia marks as the anniversary of the Nazi surrender — his remarks did not go unnoticed. And he may face prosecution.

RFE/RL: A Russian human rights activist says a Polish court has ruled against his extradition to Russia, where he faces prosecution. Yevgeny Khasoyev, a leader of the Siberia Without Torture human rights group, told RFE/RL that a court in Warsaw on October 26 denied a request by Russian authorities to extradite him back to the country.

RFE/RL: The Prague-based MEDIUM-ORIENT news agency is facing a fine in Russia for its alleged failure to follow the requirements of Russia’s controversial “foreign agent” law. Islam Tekushev, the editor in chief of the online Caucasus Times journal founded by MEDIUM-ORIENT, told RFE/RL on October 25 that Russia’s media watchdog, Roskomnadzor, had filed a protocol against the media group for violating the law on foreign agents.

RSF: With press freedom now being persecuted in Russia with an intensity not seen since the Soviet Union’s fall, three Russian journalists have described the rapid decline and their vision of journalism’s future in their country in a video made for Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

The Moscow Times: Stand-up comedy is booming across Moscow and videos of sketches often get more than a million views on YouTube, with many Russians hungry for humor that is not tightly controlled, unlike the comedy that is shown on television.

The Guardian: An appeals court in the Netherlands has ruled that Ukraine has legal control over a trove of artefacts from Crimea that was on loan to a Dutch museum when Russia annexed the peninsula in 2014.

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