News of the Day: 29 March 2021

RFE/RL: A Moscow-imposed court in the Russian-annexed Ukrainian Black Sea peninsula of Crimea has sentenced a Jehovah’s Witness to a lengthy prison term amid an ongoing crackdown against the religious group.The Gagarin district court in the city of Sevastopol said on March 29 that it had sentenced a local resident to 6 1/2 years in prison after finding him guilty of organizing activities of the group that was labeled as extremist and banned in Russia in 2017, but is legal in Ukraine. The court did not mention the man’s name, but the Crimean Human Rights Group identified him as Viktor Stashevsky. Prosecutors had asked the court to sentence Stashevsky to seven years in prison.

The Moscow Times: A Russian-controlled court in Crimea said Monday it has jailed an elderly woman for 12 years after finding her guilty of spying for Ukraine. The Sevastopol city court said in a statement that the woman — identified only by the initial D., her birth year of 1955 and residence of the town of Bakhchysarai — had been recruited into “secret cooperation” with the Ukrainian military and intelligence.

RFE/RL: The father of Ivan Zhdanov, the director of the Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) of jailed Russian opposition politician Aleksei Navalny, has been detained on a charge of abuse of office. Zhdanov wrote on social media on March 29 that his 66-year-old father Yury Zhdanov was sent to pretrial detention over the weekend after police searched his home in the city of Rostov-on-Don on March 26. “I have no doubts that the criminal case was launched because of me and my activities,” Zhdanov wrote, adding that his father’s arrest was “absolutely a new level of villainy and turpitude from the presidential administration.”

The Moscow Times: Jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny said Monday that he risks being sent to “torture-like” solitary confinement after he received several reprimands at a notoriously harsh penal colony. Navalny, 44, is serving a sentence of two and a half years for violating parole in an old fraud case while recovering abroad from poisoning that he blames on the Kremlin.

RFE/RL: Jailed Kremlin critic Aleksei Navalny says he fears the possibility of solitary confinement in a punishment cell after being accused of minor infractions. Navalny said in an Instagram post on March 29 that he had been given six reprimands within two weeks at the correctional colony where he is being held. “You get two reprimands and you go to punitive isolation, which is an unpleasant place, conditions there are close to torture,” he said.

Human Rights Watch: A Russian court extended the pretrial detention of activist Mikhail Iosilevich, the first person put behind bars in connection with his prosecution under Russia’s abusive “undesirable foreign organization” law. The court, based in Nizhniy Novgorod, made its ruling last week. By the time the extension ends on April 28, Iosilevich will have spent three months behind bars without being convicted of something that should not be a crime in the first place. Iosilevich’s pretrial detention is a violation of his right to liberty and of Russia’s obligations under regional and international human rights treaties. The authorities charged Iosilevich for providing space in his café, which hosts civil society events, for an event on election monitoring. He provided the space to election monitoring watchdog Golos, but the authorities claim he provided it to Open Russia, a group banned by the authorities as “undesirable.” Once designated “undesirable”, an organization must cease all activities in Russia, and anyone deemed to be involved with it can be charged with an administrative or even criminal offence.

CPJ: Russian authorities should investigate the threats made to journalist Vasiliy Vaysenberg and ensure that those behind them are held responsible, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. On March 25, an unidentified person called Vaysenberg’s wife, Alisa, and threatened the couple’s son, saying, “I don’t want [your son] Misha to fall off the scooter next time. Do you understand me?” according to media reports and Vaysenberg, who spoke to CPJ in a phone interview and posted about the incident on Facebook.

Civil Rights Defenders: On 15 March 2021, journalist Elena Milashina from the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta published an investigation into a mass execution in Chechnya in 2017. Following the publication, Milashina and the newspaper have received serious threats from Chechen authorities. Civil Rights Defenders and the undersigned organisations urge Frank Schwabe, PACE Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Rule of Law in the North Caucasus, and Teresa Ribeiro, OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, to react to the threats.  

RFE/RL: The head of the trauma and orthopedics department at the Russian hospital where opposition politician Aleksei Navalny was treated for poisoning last summer has died. The Omsk emergency hospital No. 1 said in a statement that Rustam Agishev passed away on March 26. “In December last year, Rustam Agishev suffered a stroke and was unable to get over that illness,” according to the statement, which did not mentioned foul play as a possible cause of death. Navalny was admitted to the acute-poisoning unit of the hospital on August 20 after he became ill on a flight from Tomsk to Moscow.

The Moscow Times: Siberian scientists have blocked the publication of a “bombshell” pollution report out of fear of angering voters ahead of this fall’s legislative elections, the news website reported Friday. The Russian Academy of Sciences’ (RAS) Siberian branch reportedly determined that 78% of Russia’s two dozen most polluted cities are located in Siberia and linked the findings to increased rates of birth defects, childhood disease and cancers in the region. 

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