News of the Day: 29 April 2021

The Guardian: The Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny has appeared in court via a video link from jail, looking gaunt after a hunger strike. The 44-year-old is serving a two-and-a-half-year sentence for parole violations on an earlier conviction that he says was politically motivated. In his first appearance since his hunger strike, which he has said he is gradually ending, a shaven-headed Navalny looked physically drained and seemed to have lost weight. Navalny declared his hunger strike in prison on 31 March to demand proper medical care for leg and back pain. He said on 23 April that he would start gradually ending it after getting medical care, even as the political prospects for him and his movement darkened. On Thursday his team said it was disbanding its network of regional campaign offices, before a court hearing due to consider a request from prosecutors to declare the main pillars of Navalny’s political organisation as extremist.

The Moscow Times: A Russian court on Thursday sentenced an ally of jailed opposition politician Alexei Navalny to two and a half years in prison on pornography charges, his lawyer said. The sentencing came as Russia inches closer to shutting down Navalny’s political network, with his regional offices announcing they would disband ahead of a ruling over whether to designate his organisations as extremist.  The court in Arkhangelsk, northern Russia, ruled that Andrei Borovikov, a former coordinator for Navalny’s offices, had spread pornography by reposting a music video by the German metal band Rammstein. Borovikov, 32, had pleaded not guilty to the charge, and his defence team will appeal the decision, lawyer Andrei Kychin added.

CPJ: Russian authorities should release journalist Sergey Stepanov immediately and should cease detaining and harassing members of the press covering protests, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. Yesterday, the Oktyabrsky District Court in the central Russian city of Tambov sentenced Stepanov, a freelance correspondent for Finnish TV and radio broadcaster IRR-TV, to 30 days in detention for allegedly participating in an unsanctioned protest on April 21, according to news reports and the journalist’s lawyer, Denis Turbin, who spoke to CPJ in a phone interview.

Human Rights Watch: April was a terrible month for freedom of expression in Russia. In early April, the authorities struck at Roman Anin, editor-in-chief of iStories (Important Stories), a new outlet specializing in investigative journalism. The Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) raided Anin’s home and iStories’ office in connection with a 2016 criminal invasion of privacy case that had been dormant for more than four years concerning his reporting on a luxury yacht, owned by an off-shore company, on which the then-wife of Igor Sechin, head of the state oil corporation, Rosneft, took extended Mediterranean vacations. iStories did not even exist at the time. Following Sechin’s successful defamation lawsuit, Novaya Gazeta, the newspaper that published the article had to publish a retraction.

The Moscow Times: Authorities in Russia’s republic of Chechnya have granted state protection to two gay men facing threats of familial “honor killings” after they were forcibly returned to their home region, the MBKh Media news website reported Thursday. Salekh Magamadov and Ismail Isayev had fled Chechnya for Nizhny Novgorod northeast of Moscow last summer after they were allegedly tortured by Chechen special police. They were seized and returned to Chechnya earlier this year in what rights groups called a kidnapping.

RFE/RL: Reports in Russia’s second-largest city, St. Petersburg, say police have launched a probe into the appearance of a giant mural of jailed Kremlin critic Aleksei Navalny that survived only a matter of hours before authorities in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s hometown painted over it. Citing city law enforcement sources, reports said that the investigation was launched into “vandalism motivated by political, ideological, racial, ethnic, or religious hatred.” Investigators believe that several artists worked on the mural in which Navalny, Putin’s most vocal critic, was shown smiling and making the shape of a heart with his hands with the slogan “A hero of a new time” next to them.

RFE/RL: A close associate of jailed Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny says the Kremlin critic’s regional network will be disbanded just ahead of an expected court hearing over a request from prosecutors to declare the main pillars of Navalny’s political organization as “extremist.” In a video posted on YouTube on April 29, Leonid Volkov, head of the Navalny regional headquarters network, called the move a “gut punch,” saying that it had become “impossible” to maintain operations amid a crackdown by Russian authorities.

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