News of the Day: 30 December 2020

RFE/RL: Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed into law a raft of legislation that human rights watchdogs and opposition politicians have said will undermine democratic processes. The controversial legislation came into force immediately upon being signed into law on December 30 and included an amendment to a law that allows individuals and public entities to be recognized as foreign agents if they are considered to be engaged in political activities “in the interests of a foreign state.” Grounds for being recognized as a “foreign agent” could be the purposeful collection of information about Russia’s military or military activities that could harm Russia’s security; holding rallies or political debates; providing opinions on state policies; actions promoting a certain outcome in an election or referendum; or participation as an electoral observer or in political parties if they are done in the interest of a foreign entity. Entities that have been branded as “foreign agents” are subject to restrictions such as providing financial reports on their activities and identifying themselves as such in publications. Putin signed a separate bill imposing penalties of up to five years in prison to those identified as “foreign agents” who do not register as such or fail to report on their activities.

The Moscow Times: President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday has signed a number of bills into law ahead of the New Year holiday, ranging from new restrictions on protests and online information to the return of Soviet-era “sobering-up stations.” Here’s an overview of all the latest legislation: Russia’s federal media watchdog now has the right to block internet platforms such as YouTube, Facebook and Twitter if they are found to “discriminate” against Russian media. The law signed by Putin also allows Russia to impose retaliatory sanctions for censorship of Russian media on foreign internet platforms. […] Putin signed new restrictions on public protests allowing Russia’s courts in some cases to recognize queues for a single picket as rallies. The changes also prohibit rallies in front of emergency buildings and impose additional restrictions on journalists covering the protests.  Under the new law, journalists are prohibited from campaigning for or against the goals of a public event, organizing or holding it or organizing the collection of donations and signatures, as well as participating in discussions and decision-making. […] Sharing personal data and information about the work of intelligence officers, law enforcement agencies, the military and judges is now a criminal offense under a law Putin signed Wednesday.  […] Another law Putin signed Wednesday prohibits the use of personal data in the public domain without the owner’s consent and gives citizens the right to ask to take their personal information down.  […] Putin approved amendments to the Criminal Code that would make spreading libel online a criminal offense punishable by up to two years in prison. The same punishment would be applied for those found guilty of defamation “against several persons, including individually undefined.” […] Any politically active, foreign-funded individual or organization working in Russia may now be labeled a “foreign agent” under a law signed by Putin on Wednesday. Foreign-funded individuals who gather information on Russia’s military or military-technical activities can also be labeled as foreign agents. Putin signed a law allowing the privatization of land located within towns and villages inside the economic zones of Russia’s national parks. […] Putin also signed a law that would return sobering-up stations to Russia for the first time since 2012.

RFE/RL: Daria Apakhonchich is a former Red Cross volunteer. She has given Russian lessons to migrant and refugee women. And she has used her position as a performance artist to organize events to protect the environment, defend feminist causes, and protest Russian military adventurism. Apakhonchich believes her activities are behind her being among the first individuals to be branded a “foreign agent” by Russia’s Justice Ministry on December 28. In an interview with RFE/RL’s Russian Service just after her placement on the Justice Ministry’s registry of “foreign mass media performing the functions of a foreign agent,” Apakhonchich said flatly that she “is not a foreign agent” and that she plans to appeal the decision to add her name to the list of 17 entities and Russian citizens. “I did nothing to get on this list and I did nothing to be considered a foreign media agent,” she said on December 28. “For me this is the main surprise, because I am not engaged in journalism.” Apakhonchich suspects that she was named to the list along with four journalists and activists because of her “feminist activity.”

RAPSI:  Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has signed a bill envisaging restriction of access to Internet resources censoring Russian media outlets into law. The document has been published on the official website of legal information. According to the new law enforcement measures are to be applied with respect to persons involved in violations of basic human rights and liberties and of the rights and liberties of citizens of the Russian Federation; the violations covered by the law include restrictions on access to information on the grounds of nationality, language, origin, property, and office, or in answer to the introduction of other restrictions infringing on the freedom of citizens of the Russian Federation to seek, receive, impart, produce and disseminate information by any lawful means on the part of Internet resources.

RAPSI: Russia’s President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday signed a bill introducing prison sentence as punishment for online defamation into law. The law envisages imprisonment for up to 2 years for folk leasing.  Previously, legislation stipulated fines of up to 1 million rubles (about $14,000 at the current exchange rate) or community service for up to 40 hours for defamation in media or public speech.

RAPSI: President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday signed a bill suspending annual indexation of wages of Russian judges into law. The document is published on the official website of legal information. The law suspends the judge wage indexation until January 1, 2022.

RAPSI: A new criminal case has been launched against Alexey Navalny, according to the Investigative Committee’s press ervice. The probe is related to the operation of give foundations allegedly linked to the blogger and stealing of more than 356 million rubles ($4.8 million) from them. According to investigators, Navalny, an actual head of the organizations in question, conspired with other persons to spend over 356 million rubles for personal purposes, including purchase of personal assets, material values, rest abroad and defrayment of other expenses. Thus, they embezzled funds collected from citizens, the statement reads.

The Moscow Times: Russia has labeled prominent women’s rights organization (“No to Violence”) as a “foreign agent,” the Justice Ministry announced Tuesday.  The Justice Ministry’s addition of the NGO, which provides legal and psychological help to domestic violence victims, to the “foreign agent” registry comes amid fears of a renewed crackdown on critical voices ahead of Russia’s 2021 legislative elections. Lawmakers pushed through controversial expansions to the “foreign agents” law last week which would allow any politically active, foreign-funded individual to be added to the list. 

Caucasian Knot: At the monument in Elista, residents of Kalmykia have commemorated those who perished during the Stalinist deportation. The authorities have actually ignored the date by failing to offer a programme of events, and also failed to ensure the sanitary and epidemiological safety in the territory of the memorial, activists report. On December 28, residents of Kalmykia traditionally laid flowers at the memorial and lit lampads, the “Caucasian Knot” correspondent reports. Monks held prayers for deportation victims. Due to restrictions introduced due to the pandemic, most notable cultural events were held in social networks. On the eve of the 77th anniversary of Kalmyks’ deportation, activists of the “Kalmyk Women Abroad” community posted videos dedicated to the tragic date on their YouTube channel. Tseren Basangov, an activist of the “Elista is Our City” movement, has noted that the risk of getting infected with coronavirus did not frighten residents of Kalmykia, since the deportation was “a matter of life and death of the entire nation.” When the deportation of Kalmyks began, Svetlana Byurchieva was two years old. She knows about the events of December 28, 1943, from the stories of her mother. Svetlana’s first childhood memories about Siberia are associated with the feeling of hunger and the death of her brother. Elena Korsaeva, who was born in the Urals in 1951, did not understand in her childhood that she had to do with the deported nation. She has admitted that moving back to Kalmykia was a difficult test for the family.

Human Rights in Ukraine: 65-year-old Halyna Dovhopola has been moved to another cell in Moscow after being beaten several times by her cellmate.  Her transfer was solely thanks to civic activists who learned of the attacks, which the prison administration may well have been aware of.  As Russian lawyer Nikolai Polozov notes, it is common practice in the Russian penitentiary system for cellmates to be used to put pressure on prisoners.  It is fortunate that the public monitoring group were able to intervene as the opportunities for communicating with detainees are particularly restricted at the Lefortovo Prison.  Russia’s FSB have on many occasions used such restrictions to put heavy pressure on Ukrainian political prisoners.

Caucasian Knot: Armed attacks in Chechnya are held amid glorification of rioters like Abdullakh Anzorov, dissatisfaction with the local authorities and the expansion of a new network associated with the “Islamic State” (IS), a terrorist organization banned in Russia by the court, analysts believe, adding that, however, the poor effect from such attacks indicates that they are committed by non-professional groupings. The “Caucasian Knot” has reported that on December 28, in Grozny, an attack was committed on inspectors of the patrol-and-post service. The attackers – two brothers who had moved to Chechnya from Ingushetia – were shot dead. A network is being established in Northern Caucasus that will communicate with the IS, Akhmet Yarlykapov, a Caucasian expert, believes. Such incidents occur even amid potential repressions against attackers’ relatives, the expert has noted, at the same time not singling Chechnya out of other “hot regions” in terms of the increased terrorist activity. The increase in the number of armed attacks in Chechnya may have to do with the heroization of Abdullakh Anzorov, Vera Mironova, a researcher at the Harvard University, has not excluded. She has marked the weak organizational level and zero effect of such actions, and also pointed to the emotional component, which is likely to prevail in such actions. The sudden growth in the number of attacks may have to do with the economic situation in the republic amid the pandemic, since authorities’ measures were tougher in Chechnya than in other Russian regions, Neil Hauer, a Canadian analyst, believes. The conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh, as well as dissatisfaction with the authorities, could have a great influence on the growth in the number of attacks on law enforcers, said Sergey Goncharov, the president of the International Association of Veterans of the “Alpha” Antiterrorist Unit.

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