News of the Day: 30 March 2021

The Moscow Times: A court in Russia-annexed Crimea said Monday it has jailed a Jehovah’s Witness for six and a half years on charges of organizing an extremist group in the country’s latest prison sentence against members of the Christian denomination. The Sevastopol-based Gagarin district court said in a statement that it found the defendant guilty and sent him to a prison colony. It is one of a litany of sentences handed out to Jehovah’s Witnesses since Russia banned the group as an extremist organization in 2017.

RFE/RL: Russian authorities have opened a criminal case against four Jehovah’s Witnesses in Siberia, in the latest persecution against the religious group. The Investigative Committee in the Tomsk region charged the four believers for participating in an extremist group, the human rights monitoring group OVD-Info and Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia said on March 29. The four were identified as Sergei Belousov, Andrei Kolesnichenko, Aleksei Ershov, and Andrei Ledyaykin. The case was opened in Seversk, a closed city due to its nuclear and chemical facilities.

Front Line Defenders: Since January 2021, human rights defender Ernest Mezak has been facing increasing pressure from the authorities in relation to his participation in rallies and demonstrations protesting the judicial process and continued imprisonment of opposition politician Alexei Navalny. Since January, five administrative cases have been brought against him, on charges of: “violation by a participant of a public event of the established procedure for holding a meeting, rally, demonstration, march or picket” in one case, for which he was convicted and fined, and “refusal to obey lawful orders of a police officer” in the remaining four cases. One of the four cases on charges of police disobedience was ultimately dismissed, whilst in two of the remaining cases he was convicted and sentenced to 12 and six days of administrative detention respectively. He is still awaiting a decision on the fourth case.

RFE/RL: Police have searched the home of well-known Tatar writer and activist Fauzia Bairamova in Naberezhnye Chelny, the second-largest city in Russia’s Republic of Tatarstan. Bairamova told RFE/RL that the search conducted on March 30 was linked to her participation in the 2019 annual commemoration of Tatars fallen during the 1552 siege of the city by Russian troops.

RFE/RL: Hundreds of Russian physicians have demanded authorities provide immediate medical assistance to jailed opposition politician Aleksei Navalny amid growing concerns over the state of his health. Some 500 doctors and medical experts signed the online petition that was launched on March 28, one of the initiators of the petition, a journalist from the Insider website, Oleg Pshenichny, told RFE/RL.

The Guardian: The role the Russian state played in the death of a Wiltshire woman who was poisoned with the nerve agent novichok is to be investigated in detail at her inquest. Heather Hallett said she would carry out a “fearless” inquiry into the death of Dawn Sturgess including digging into who directed the operation to bring novichok into the UK. Lady Hallett, a retired high court judge, also revealed she planned to look into the actions of the police and public health officials to keep the people of Wiltshire safe after the initial novichok attack on the former Russian spy Sergei Skripal four months before Sturgess’s death.

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