News of the Day: 30 June 2021

The Moscow Times: A Russian court has handed the country’s longest prison sentence yet to a Jehovah’s Witness, the independent news website MediaZona reported Wednesday.  More than two dozen Jehovah’s Witnesses have been sentenced and scores more are currently in prison or under house arrest since Russia declared the Christian denomination an “extremist” organization in 2017.  Courts began handing out longer prison terms this year, sentencing a Crimean believer to six and a half years in March and a Krasnodar Jehovah’s Witness to seven and a half years in February. The Blagoveshchensk City Court, 7,000 kilometers east of Moscow, found church members Dmitry Golik and Alexei Berchuk guilty of extremism charges and jailed them to seven and eight years, according to MediaZona.

RFE/RL: Two members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses have been handed lengthy prison terms in Russia’s Far Eastern city of Blagoveshchensk amid an ongoing crackdown on the religious group, which has been banned in Russia since 2017. The Jehovah’s Witnesses’ website says 30-year-old Dmitry Golik was sentenced to seven years and 43-year-old Aleksei Berchuk to eight years in prison on June 30.

RFE/RL: The Russian State Prosecutor’s Office has banned a Czech nongovernmental organization after putting it on the “undesirable” list. Prosecutors said in a statement on June 29 that the Prague-based Spolecnost Svobody Informace, or Freedom of Information Society, “poses a threat to the foundations of the constitutional order and security of the Russian Federation.” The “undesirable” organization law, adopted in May 2015 and since updated, was part of a series of regulations pushed by the Kremlin that squeezed many nonprofit and nongovernmental organizations that received funding from foreign sources — mainly from Europe and the United States.

RFE/RL: Russian authorities have taken further action against the network of exiled former tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky. The State Prosecutor’s Office on June 30 labeled four organizations linked to the Kremlin critic as “undesirable,” effectively banning their activities in Russia. The four nongovernmental organizations are the U.K.-registered Khodorkovsky Foundation, its subsidiary the Oxford Russia Fund, the London-based Future of Russia Foundation, and the French organization European Choice. The organizations “pose a threat to the foundations of the constitutional order and security of the Russian Federation,” the Prosecutor’s Office said in a statement.

RFE/RL:  A court in Moscow has sentenced an opposition member of the city’s district election commission to two years in prison for hitting a policeman during an unsanctioned rally in January to support jailed Kremlin critic Aleksei Navalny. The Meshchansky district court on June 29 found Roman Pichuzhin, a member of the opposition Yabloko party, guilty of punching an officer during a January 23 rally. He was sentenced the same day.

Front Line Defenders: On 26 June 2021, the house of human rights defender Ernest Mezak and the house of his elderly mother were searched by police officers as part of the investigation in the criminal case against him for “insulting a judge” (Part 2, Article 297 of the Criminal Code). During the searches, five computers, including those of his wife and son, four work smartphones, three hard drives, five USBs and routers were confiscated. Later on the same day, Ernest Mezak was summoned to the investigator in Syktyvkar for questioning, which will happen on 1 July 2021.

The Moscow Times: Russian band Sansara on Tuesday released a pro-LGBT video for their single “We Will Become Better.”  The video is about “two people who love each other but forbid themselves because of societal judgment around their relationship, and so unfortunately it cannot happen,” its writer Evgeny Primachenko told The Moscow Times. The clip has so far been received with “either absolute love or absolute hate,” Primachenko said.

The Moscow Times: The UN Security Council on Tuesday held its first formal public meeting on cybersecurity, addressing the growing threat of hacks to countries’ key infrastructure — an issue U.S. President Joe Biden recently raised with Russia’s Vladimir Putin. While the U.S. envoy to the world body asked that member states respect a framework already in place, her Russian counterpart called for a new treaty to be drafted.

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