News of the Day: 30 December 2021

The Moscow Times: Russia on Thursday confirmed 21,073 Covid-19 infections and 926 deaths. Cases in Moscow rose from 1,798 on Wednesday to 2,661 on Thursday, a nearly 50% increase.

RFE/RL: Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Veronika Nikulshina, two members of the Pussy Riot protest group, have been added to Russia’s controversial “foreign agents” list, which is used by the government to label what it says are foreign-funded organizations that are engaged in political activity, as well as people linked to them.

The Moscow Times: Russia has added members of the Pussy Riot art activist collective, a prominent satirist and an independent journalist its registry of “foreign agents” Thursday. The designations close a year in which Russia labeled nearly every major independent domestic news outlet, as well as dozens of individual journalists and activists, a “foreign agent.”  Founding Pussy Riot member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and fellow member Nika Nikulshina have been added to the Justice Ministry’s “foreign agents” registry. Tolokonnikova, 32, was among the Pussy Riot members who were sentenced to prison for their 2012 protest performance in central Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral that criticized the Russian Orthodox Church’s close ties with President Vladimir Putin. Anti-Kremlin satirist Viktor Shenderovich; Taisiya Bekbulatova, chief editor of the independent Holod news website; and art collector and former Kremlin advisor Marat Gelman have also been added to the list. “These people systematically distribute materials to an indefinite circle of persons, while receiving foreign funds,” the Justice Ministry’s statement said.

Meduza: The Russian Justice Ministry made yet another round of additions to its “foreign-agent media” registry on Thursday, December 30, blacklisting a number of cultural figures, including two Pussy Riot activists and three journalists. The Justice Ministry designated Pussy Riot activists Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Veronika Nikulshina as “foreign agents,” along with writer and publicist Viktor Shenderovich, gallery owner Marat Gelman, and the founder of the Yaroslavl film club “Neft” Andrey Alekseyev. 

Human Rights in Ukraine: On 29 December, the European Court of Human Rights applied Rule No. 39, halting Russia’s implementation of the rulings on 28 and 29 December which order the closure of the Memorial Society and the Memorial Human Rights Centre, pending the Court’s consideration of Application 9988/13 over the law on ‘foreign agents’.   This, in theory, should not be only a temporary stay of execution, given the use of this particular law as the pretext for closing Russia’s most vital human rights NGOs.  In fact, there would be no guarantee that Russia would comply with a ruling from ECHR regarding the ‘foreign agent’ law, but it would now be in breach of Article 34 of the European Convention were it to flout Rule 39. 

Venice Commission: On 28 December 2021, the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation ordered the closure of Memorial International. Memorial International is an non-commercial organization which has operated in the Russian Federation since 1992 with a view to “studying political repressions in the USSR and in present-day Russia and promoting moral and legal rehabilitation of persons subjected to political repressions”. It is one of the most prominent civil society organisations active in the field of human rights protection in the Russian Federation. The closure of Memorial International appears to have been ordered, upon a request by the Prosecutor General’s Office, under the legislation on “foreign agents” and “undesirable activities of foreign and international NGOs”.

Human Rights Watch: In two days, Russian courts have delivered a one-two punch to Russia’s human rights movement. Just a few days after the 30-year anniversary of the collapse of the Soviet Union, courts ruled to close Memorial, Russia’s top human rights group.  Yesterday the Supreme Court granted the Prosecutor General’s request to “liquidate” Memorial International, which for 32 years has worked to commemorate victims of Soviet repression, preserve the facts about The Great Terror, and provide a platform for open debate. And today the Moscow City Court ruled in favor of the Moscow City Prosecutor’s Office lawsuit to liquidate the Memorial Human Rights Center, Memorial International’s sister organization, which documents a wide range of abuses in Russia, particularly in the North Caucasus, maintains a list of political prisoners and documents human rights violations in neighboring countries. […] Memorial is appealing both rulings, and has indicated that they will go to the European Court of Human Rights if need be. However, the authorities have the power to take steps to reverse course. They could annul the rulings, revoke the slew of laws aimed at silencing free expression, and release Navalny and his affiliates.  Try as it may, Russia can’t wipe out historical memory or force people to stop working to protect their rights. 

FIDH: The Observatory strongly condemns the dissolution of International Memorial and HRC Memorial, which seems to be only aimed at sanctioning the two organisations for their legitimate human rights activities and their exercise of the rights to freedom of association, assembly and expression. The Observatory urges the Russian authorities to immediately repeal these decisions and to put an end to any act of harassment against both NGOs, as well as against all organisations defending human rights in the country.

RFE/RL: The year in Russia is winding down with a spate of events that have alarmed many observers about the intentions of President Vladimir Putin and his government. First, the state media-monitoring agency Roskomnadzor blocked the website of OVD-Info, which among other things has served as a clearinghouse connecting detained protesters with defense attorneys. Then, a court in the northern city of Petrozavodsk sentenced prominent historian Yury Dmitriyev to 15 years in prison on indecency charges that supporters say were fabricated in retribution for his research into the crimes of dictator Josef Stalin and the Soviet government. Next, the Russian Supreme Court ordered the shutdown of Memorial International, an umbrella human rights and historical research NGO that has played a prominent civil society role since the days of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s policy of glasnost, or openness.

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