Week-ending 5 February 2021
This week more than 11,000 people were arrested at the peaceful protests in support of prisoner of conscience Aleksei Navalny. During the protests, two organisations played the pre-eminent role in monitoring abuses by law enforcement agencies and providing legal support to those detained. These two organisations are OVD-Info and Apologiya protesta, which is a project of Agora International Human Rights Group.
OVD-Info, website: https://ovdinfo.org/
Apologiya protesta, website: https://apologia.pro/
Amnesty International, 31 January 2021: All peaceful protesters detained today in Moscow and other Russian cities must be released immediately and unconditionally, and all instances of unlawful use of force by police promptly and effectively investigated, Amnesty International said. Today’s arrests and violent dispersals were the latest crackdown by Russian authorities on overwhelmingly peaceful protesters demanding the release of Alexei Navalny. “Russian authorities have arrested so many people in recent weeks that detention centres in Moscow have run out of space, and peaceful protesters are being held in deportation facilities. Trying to lock up every critic in the country is a losing game – the Russian authorities should instead recognize how much the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and expression mean to a growing number of Russians, and allow people to express their opinions without fear of retaliation.
Human Rights Watch, 31 January 2021: For the second weekend in a row, Russian police forcibly and at times brutally dispersed peaceful protests, arbitrarily detaining more than 5,000 people across Russia, Human Rights Watch said today. That topped the previous record for the largest number of people detained on a single day, set on January 23, 2021. The protesters expressed outrage over the arrest of political opposition figure Alexei Navalny and state corruption, among other grievances. The authorities responded to the January 31 protests as they had the previous weekend, with numerous incidents of police brutality caught on cameras by journalists and private citizens, detentions of journalists and passers-by, and the opening of criminal cases against protesters. Again police arrested and raided the homes of Navalny’s associates and others the day before the protest, in a clear effort to stop them protesting and to intimidate others. Like last week, incidents of violence by protesters were isolated and almost exclusively in response to police use of force. “Russian authorities continue to pervert reality and pretend peaceful protesters are a violent mob, which they clearly are not,” said Damelya Aitkhozhina, Russia researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Russian authorities are heading the wrong way with more abusive security measures, more police on the streets, and more footage of injured people – they need to start listening to the peaceful protesters and respecting their rights.”
The Guardian, 31 January 2021: Police have paralysed the centres of Russia’s largest cities, including Moscow, as the Kremlin sought to beat back rallies in support of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny, the country’s most significant protests in a decade. Supporters of the Kremlin critic took to the streets to protest against his jailing, despite biting cold and the threat of arrest. At least 4,700 people, including Navalny’s wife, Yulia Navalnaya, were detained as the rallies across the country entered a second week. Taking unprecedented security measures, riot police and national guards troops shut down seven central metro stations in Moscow and blocked off streets to prevent a repeat of last week’s record protests, some of the largest since 2012. The unsanctioned protests deteriorated into a cat-and-mouse game as riot police armed with batons and stun guns pursued protesters through the capital. The hours-long chase was punctuated by clashes and brutal arrests. One man was severely injured after dousing himself with gasoline and setting himself on fire, apparently in an act of protest. He was hospitalised in critical condition.
RFE/RL, 31 January 2021: Russian police used heavy force in detaining more than 4,000 people nationwide as demonstrators took to the streets for a second-straight weekend to demand the release of jailed opposition politician and anti-corruption activist Aleksei Navalny. Riot police were filmed dragging protesters to awaiting vehicles in multiple cities and beating and using tasers against participants of the unsanctioned rallies called by Navalny and his team. Navalny’s wife was among the more than 840 people detained in Moscow, where the activist is being held for 30 days while he awaits trial for violating parole.
The Moscow Times, 31 January 2021: Russians nationwide are staging a second round of protests calling for jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s release despite a growing crackdown and threats of prosecution by the authorities. Navalny’s allies called for new protests to demand his release after tens of thousands took to the streets nationwide at last Saturday’s protests, resulting in a single-day record of over 4,000 detentions. The Kremlin critic faces up to 3.5 years in jail in a trial that starts this week on charges of violating the terms of a 2014 suspended sentence while recovering from Novichok poisoning in Germany. The days ahead of Sunday’s protests were marked by an intensifying crackdown against Navalny’s allies and family members, with his brother Oleg and lawyer Lyubov Sobol placed under pre-trial house arrest on charges of violating coronavirus restrictions by calling people to join protests. Authorities also issued an arrest warrant in absentia for Leonid Volkov, a top Navalny aide based in Lithuania, as part of a criminal case on inciting minors to attend unauthorized protests.
The Guardian, 1 February 2021: Police have paralysed the centres of Russia’s largest cities, including Moscow, as the Kremlin sought to beat back rallies in support of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny, the country’s most significant protests in a decade. Supporters of the Kremlin critic took to the streets to protest against his jailing, despite the biting cold and threat of arrest. At least 5,100 people, including Navalny’s wife, Yulia Navalnaya, were detained as the rallies across the country entered a second week. Taking unprecedented security measures, riot police and national guards troops shut down seven central metro stations in Moscow and blocked off streets to prevent a repeat of last week’s record protests, some of the largest since 2012.
Committee to Protect Journalists, 2 February 2021: Russian authorities should immediately and unconditionally release all journalists detained during recent protests, and allow members of the press to cover political demonstrations without fear, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. During nationwide protests by supporters of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny on January 31, as well as in their immediate run-up, police throughout the country detained, intimidated, or harassed at least 122 journalists, according to news reports and a report by the Professional Union of Journalists and Media Workers, an independent trade group. In previous pro-Navalny protests on January 23, the union reported about half as many such attacks, as CPJ documented at the time. “Russian authorities should stop punishing journalists who are doing their jobs, and immediately drop all charges against all media workers being targeted for their reporting on the protests of January 23 and 31,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator. “Journalists covering civil unrest should be protected by law enforcement, not detained and harassed.”
Human Rights Watch, 2 February 2021: Foreign Minister Ann Linde’s trip to Moscow this week, the first one during Sweden’s chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), comes as Russia is in the midst of a severe human rights crisis. Last month’s arrest of the Russian opposition leader, Alexei Navalny, five months after his near-fatal poisoning, shocked many in Sweden and around the world. And the arrests of thousands of protesters across Russia during the past two weekends underscores the breadth of the politically motivated crackdown on the opposition. It is only the tip of the iceberg. Toward the end of 2020, Russia’s government rammed legislative amendments through parliament clearly aimed at shutting down civil society and silencing independent or critical voices. The amendments drastically expand the scope of the law on “foreign agents,” the toxic label that Russian authorities for years have assigned to a wide range of independent groups to demonize and isolate them. Indeed, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the Kremlin seeks to equate as “foreign” any speech or action that is any way critical of the authorities.
Meduza, 3 February 2021: On the night of Tuesday, February 2, protesters took to the streets in several Russian cities after a Moscow court sentenced opposition politician Alexey Navalny to two years and eight months in prison. In the Russian capital, the police response was violent and upwards of a thousand people were detained. Among them was 21-year-old Alyona Kitayeva, who later reported being assaulted and threatened with electroshocks while in police custody. Since then, other detainees have come forward describing similar abuse and intimidation at the hands of the Moscow police.
RFE/RL, 4 February 2021: EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell is due to begin a three-day visit to Moscow on February 4 amid strong criticism from Western countries over the jailing of opposition politician Aleksei Navalny and a crackdown on protesters. Russia’s treatment of Navalny, whose arrest and imprisonment sparked thousands of people across Russia to demonstrate, and the crackdown on those demonstrations are the topics expected to dominate Borrell’s talks with Russian officials.
Human Rights Watch, 4 February 2021: It’s an understatement to say that Josep Borrell’s first visit to Russia in his capacity as the European Union’s foreign affairs chief is a major event. The EU’s relations with Russia hit a new low in January following the politically motivated arrest of the opposition leader Alexei Navalny right after his return from Germany, where he had been treated for a near-fatal poisoning. The eyes of both top European policymakers and the Kremlin will be on Borrell. But Borrell will also be scrutinized by the thousands of Russian citizens who are faced with new waves of repression because they stood up against corruption and injustice.
The Moscow Times: Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny called on his supporters Thursday to fight fear and free Russia from “a handful of thieves in power,” in his first detailed comments since being ordered to serve out a prison sentence. The 44-year-old anti-corruption campaigner, who was jailed Tuesday on old embezzlement charges, wrote on Instagram that the authorities could only retain power if Russians remained afraid. “But we, having overcome fear, can free our homeland from a handful of thieves in power. Let’s do it. We must do it.” Navalny returned to Russia last month from Germany where he was recovering from an August poisoning attack with the Novichok nerve agent.
Meduza, 5 February 2021: Detainees at a special detention center in the village of Sakharovo — where the authorities sent protesters arrested amid the mass demonstrations in support of imprisoned opposition politician Alexey Navalny — staged a protest on the night of February 4. This was reported by Marina Litvinovich, a member of Moscow’s Public Monitoring Commission (ONK).
The Guardian, 5 February 2021: Angela Merkel has condemned as “unjustified” Russia’s expulsion of European diplomats for participating in unauthorised demonstrations in support of the jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny. “We consider these expulsions to be unjustified. We believe it is yet another aspect that can be observed right now of Russia being quite far from the rule of law,” the German chancellor said on Friday at an online press conference with France’s president, Emmanuel Macron. Germany’s foreign minister, Heiko Maas, said earlier that the decision by Moscow to declare the diplomats from Poland, Germany and Sweden personae non gratae would “not go unanswered”. Maas said the German diplomat concerned had been “solely fulfilling his duty … of informing himself about developments on the ground by lawful means”.