News of the Day: 31 March 2021

The Guardian: Alexei Navalny has gone on hunger strike after saying he was denied urgent medical treatment in prison. The Russian opposition leader has complained of a “sharp deterioration” in his health since his transfer to a prison colony in the Vladimir region to serve a two-and-a-half year sentence on embezzlement charges. The colony, which is 60 miles from Moscow, is notoriously strict and said to excel at isolating inmates from the outside world. Navalny, who barely survived a poisoning attack in August traced back to Russia’s FSB, complained of “aggressively progressing” pain and numbness in his back and legs. “Parts of my right and now left leg have lost all feeling,” he wrote in a note, which has been reposted to his social media account.

RFE/RL: A noted human rights activist in the northwestern Russian city of Cherepovets has been sentenced to two years of “limited freedom” under parole-like conditions on a charge of distributing false information about the coronavirus. The leader of the For Human Rights movement’s branch in the Vologda region, Grigory Vinter, said on March 31 that the sentence forbids him from changing his permanent address and orders him to report to a parole officer twice a month. Vinter was found guilty of posting “false” information on the VKontakte social network about the purported transfer of a group of convicts with coronavirus-like symptoms from Russia’s second city, St. Petersburg, to the Vologda region in 2020. He was also found guilty of insulting police during a search of his apartment in May. Vinter says he will appeal the court’s ruling.

The Moscow Times; A court in St. Petersburg on Wednesday jailed a man for a year for having attacked a riot police officer during a rally in support of imprisoned Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny. Yevgeny Tugankov became the third Russian to receive a prison sentence over the nationwide protests that took place in late January and early February demanding freedom for 44-year-old Navalny. On Wednesday, St. Petersburg’s Leninsky district court sentenced Tugankov to one year in a penal colony for having used violence against a law enforcement official, the OVD-Info rights group reported. Tugankov pleaded guilty to the charges.

Amnesty International: On 17 March, the NGO Russian LGBT Network reported that lawyers were finally allowed to visit Salekh Magamadov and Ismail Isaev in a remand facility in Chechnya’s capital Grozny. They complained about ill-treatment and multiple violations of fair trial guarantees. They are being prosecuted on spurious charges solely for exercising their right to freedom of expression, including in connection with their real or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity, and must be immediately released. All charges against them must be dropped.

Human Rights in Ukraine: The Russian prison authorities have thrown Andriy Kolomiyets into the appalling conditions of a SHIZO, or punishment cell for the second time this month, with both 10-day sentences on absurd pretexts.  Kolomiyets is one of two Ukrainians who were tortured and imprisoned by Russian-controlled courts on preposterous charges linked with their involvement in the Euromaidan protests, and Russia’s revenge appears to be continuing with the young Ukrainian’s treatment in Russian captivity.

Human Rights in Ukraine: Russia’s Defence Minister, Sergei Shoigu has issued orders which effectively block almost all access to Russian military archives from the period of the Second World War.  The move is especially alarming given the current regime’s systematic attempts to push its own narrative about that period, distorting or muffling historical facts, for example, about the Soviet Union’s collaboration with Nazi Germany from 1939 to June 1941.

It is typical that Order No. 591 was issued back on 12 November 2020, but only published over four months later, on 23 March 2021.  The delay was doubtless deliberate, leaving almost no time to organize protest or for researchers to spend time examining archival material before the measures come into effect on 1 April.

RFE/RL: The United States is expressing concern about what it called ongoing Russian aggression against Ukraine amid reports of a buildup of Russian troops along Ukraine’s border and in Crimea. Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke by phone with his Ukrainian counterpart, Dmytro Kuleba, and U.S. General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, called top military leaders in Russia and Ukraine, the State Department and Pentagon said on March 31. Blinken reaffirmed U.S. support for Ukraine “in the face of Russia’s ongoing aggression” and “expressed concern about the security situation in eastern Ukraine,” the State Department said. Defense Department spokesman John Kirby said the Pentagon is aware of Ukrainian military reports concerning Russian troop movements near Ukraine’s borders.

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