News of the Day: 29 December 2020

RFE/RL: Russia’s Federal Prison Service has told Kremlin critic and anti-corruption activist Aleksei Navalny to return immediately from Germany — where he is recovering from a near-fatal poisoning by a Soviet-era nerve agent — or face jail in Russia. In a December 28 statement, the prison service accused Navalny of violating the terms of a suspended prison sentence relating to a 2014 fraud conviction and of evading criminal inspectors.

The Guardian: Russian authorities have ramped up the pressure on the prominent Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny by levelling new fraud accusations against him. The Investigative Committee, Russia’s main investigative agency, said on Tuesday it had opened a new criminal case against Navalny on charges of large-scale fraud related to his alleged mishandling of $5m in private donations to his Anti-Corruption Foundation and other organisations. Navalny, who is convalescing in Germany after an August poisoning with a nerve agent that he blamed on the Kremlin, ridiculed the new accusations as a sign of Vladimir Putin’s agitation.

RFE/RL: Russian police have released two colleagues of Lyubov Sobol, a prominent lawyer for outspoken Kremlin critic Aleksei Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation, after seven days in jail. Olga Klyuchnikova, who ran Sobol’s 2019 campaign for a seat in the Moscow city parliament and produces the YouTube channel Navalny LIVE, and Akim Kerimov, a director for the YouTube show, were freed on December 29, the lawyer said in a tweet. Klyuchnikova and Kerimov were detained on December 21 outside the home of Konstantin Kudryavtsev, a Federal Security Service (FSB) agent suspected of involvement in the August poisoning of Navalny. The two Sobol associates were sentenced the following day to seven days in jail for not obeying the orders of a police officer. Sobol was also detained outside Kudryavtsev’s home on December 21 but was fined and freed.

RFE/RL: The Moscow City Court has found Karina Tsurkan, an executive with energy holding company Inter RAO, guilty on charges of spying for Moldova, which she denies, and sentenced her to 15 years in prison. After a hearing held behind closed doors because the case is classified, Tsurkan’s defense lawyers, part of the Team 29 rights group, said on December 29 that it will appeal the decision. “This day will undoubtedly go down in history as a black page of Russian justice. An innocent person — and I am responsible for my words — was given 15 years in prison,” Ivan Pavlov, one of Tsurkan’s lawyers, said. “We disagree with the conviction and will appeal it…. We will do our best to get this unjust sentence overturned.” Pavlov said that Team 29 had carried out a “thorough analysis” of the evidence against Tsurkan and determined that some of it was forged. Tsurkan was arrested in June 2019 by Russia’s main security agency, the Federal Security Service (FSB), and charged with spying for an unnamed foreign country. Tsurkan has called the charges “absurd.”

RFE/RL: The Council of Europe says it is concerned about Russia branding individuals as “foreign agents” after Moscow added five people to a registry that activists say is used as a way to clamp down on dissent. The council, one of the continent’s leading human rights organizations, said in a statement on December 29 that the move — and the foreign agent law in general — “stifles the development of civil society and freedom of expression.” The comment comes a day after Russia said it had placed five people — three journalists who contribute to RFE/RL and two human rights activists — on the Justice Ministry’s registry of “foreign mass media performing the functions of a foreign agent.”

Caucasian Knot: The leaders of the Ingush protest movement, accused of creating an extremist community, have committed no crimes – they are prosecuted for their high authority among people, Sergey Davidis and Lev Ponomaryov, rights defenders, have stated. The “Caucasian Knot” has reported that the case of seven Ingush protest leaders is considered at court since November 24. On December 17, witnesses positively characterized the defendants and stated that they had not heard any calls for illegal actions from them. The trial of the Ingush oppositionists is the largest politically motivated prosecution in Russia, Sergey Davidis, the head of the programme for the recognition of political prisoners at the Human Rights Centre (HRC) “Memorial”, believes. According to his story, at least 48 people have been prosecuted in total. Lev Ponomaryov, the head of the movement “For Human Rights”, believes that in Ingushetia, as in other regions of Russia, the police often become a source of violence at rallies. The relative “softness” of the judge and the refusal of the prosecution witnesses to testify against the defendants indicate the groundlessness of the accusation, said Karina Moskalenko, a lawyer.

Meduza: In the early hours of December 29, a SWAT team stormed the Sredneuralsk Women’s Monastery outside of Yekaterinburg and arrested Sergii Romanov — one of the region’s most well-known priests, who was excommunicated from the Russian Orthodox Church earlier this year. Romanov was taken to Moscow where a district court remanded him in custody for the next two months on charges of inciting minors to suicide, violating freedom of conscience and religion, and arbitrariness. Following Romanov’s arrest, his supporters have been gathering outside of the monastery and refusing to allow anyone to enter the grounds, for fear that the Yekaterinburg diocese will take back control of the convent. Defrocked Russian Orthodox priest Sergii Romanov was arrested at a women’s monastery outside of Yekaterinburg that he took control of back in June. In the early hours of December 29, officers from the riot police (OMON) and the Russian Guard arrived at the Sredneuralsk Women’s Monastery in full uniform and, according to parishionersoccupied “even the smallest paths.” Many of Romanov’s supporters came to the defense of the former Schema-Hegumen. A few hours beforehand, they had placed the monastery under round-the-clock protection, after being tipped off that a SWAT team made up of security forces from Moscow was on their way to arrest Romanov. 

Leave a Reply