Simon Cosgrove: A look back at the past week in Russia [week-ending 21 January 2022]

23 January 2022

By Simon Cosgrove

Simon is chair of Rights in Russia but writes these comments in a personal capacity and they may not necessarily represent the views of the organisation

This week fell the 13th anniversary of the shooting dead in central Moscow in 2009 of human rights lawyer Stanislav Markelov and journalist Anastasia Baburova (on 19 January). Stanislav Markelov (20 May 1974 – 19 January 2009) was a prominent human rights lawyer; Anastasia Baburova (30 November 1983 – 19 January 2009) was a student of journalism at Moscow State University and a journalist for Novaya gazeta. Rights in Russia was founded on 19 January 2010 in their memory.

The week passed with continued international concern about possible Russian military action against Ukraine. It also saw the reported withdrawal of the Russia-led troops of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) from Kazakhstan.

Prisoner of Conscience On 17 January, the first anniversary of Aleksei Navalny’s arrest on his return to Russia from Germany where he had been treated recovering from novichok poisoning, Amnesty International issued a statement condemning the Russian authorities for unleashing ‘an unprecedented campaign of repression and reprisals against wrongfully imprisoned opposition leader Aleksei Navalny and his supporters’ and ‘destroying all remnants of the rights to freedom of expression and association.’ Navalny himself on Instagram said he did not regret returning to Russia, despite ‘not being able to take a single step in my own country as a free person.’

Right of association Amnesty International also called attention to the case of Lilia Chanysheva, a former regional coordinator of Navalny’s headquarters in Ufa who has been in detention since 9 November 2021 on charges of ‘establishing or leading an extremist association.’ Amnesty said the Investigative Committee had arbitrarily removed four lawyers representing Chanysheva from the case, leaving her without a legal counsel of her choice. Amnesty International also highlighted the case of Mikhail Iosilevich, on trial in Nizhny Novgorod since 29 December 2021 primarily for ‘cooperating’ with an ‘undesirable’ organisation while in reality he did nothing more than ‘peacefully exercising his rights to freedom of expression and association.’

Liberty and Security of Person / Chechnya On 20 January Zarema Musaeva, the 52-year-old mother of Abubakar Yangulbayev, a lawyer who works for the Committee Against Torture, was abducted from her apartment in Nizhny Novgorod by masked men claiming to be Chechen police officers. The Committee Against Torture said the masked men forcibly broke into the home, using brute force against his relatives and lawyers. The Moscow Times reported a video filmed by Yangulbaev’s sister showed the violent scenes inside the apartment. Musaeva, a diabetic who, at the time of her detention, was also suspected of having COVID-19, was taken away without any warm clothes or medication. Chechnya’s leader Ramzan Kadyrov said Musaeva faces a ‘real prison sentence,’ and said the Chechen authorities would ‘take care of’ her son, and that her entire family could find themselves ‘underground.’ These shameless, lawless actions were immediately condemned by international human rights groups, including Amnesty International, Civil Rights Defenders, Human Rights Watch, the Norwegian Helsinki Committee and the Observatory for the Protection of Humn Rights Defenders.

Chechnya In other events related to Chechnya, Amnesty International France demanded to intervene as a third party in the case of Djakhar Oisaev in an effort to stop him being deported from France to Chechnya where he may well risk enforced disappearance, extrajudicial execution, persecution, unfair trial or torture. Meanwhile the European Court of Human Rights refused to hear the send the judgment of 31 August 2021 in the case of Natalia Estemirova to the Grand Chamber (the judgment had found there was no violation of Article 2 [right to life] of the European Convention, but a violation of Article 2 [investigation], and a failure by the authorities to comply with obligations under Article 38 to furnish necessary facilities for the examination of a case).

Freedom of conscience The persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses continued. On the basis of the Supreme Court’s 2017 ruling banning Jehovah’s Witnesses as an ‘extremist organisation’, a court in Krasnodar sentenced Jehovah’s Witness Maksim Beltikov to two years in prison for taking part in the activities of an ‘extremist organisation’ while in Seversk, Tomsk region, two Jehovah’s Witnesses were sentenced to prison: Aleksei Yershov to two years for taking part in the activities of an extremist organisation; a second as yet unnamed Jehovah’s Witness was sentenced to seven years for organising the activities of an extremist organisation.

Freedom of expression The authorities’ blocking of the website of OVD-Info has continued to prompt international reaction: Civil Rights Defenders called on theEuropean Union to ‘protect OVD-Info from further persecution, and to ensure that their social media accounts remain active.’  Reporters Without Borders called on Meta (Facebook and Instagram), Google (YouTube), Twitter and Telegram not to comply with the Russian media regulator’s draconian demand for the deletion of accounts held by OVD-Info.

Meanwhile in St. Petersburg the artist Ivan Volkov was charged with the crime of desecrating a burial place of the dead for creating a 5-metre-long snow sculpture of a turd on the Field of Mars.

Annexation of Crimea Meanwhile persecution of dissidents in Crimea and of Crimean Tatars continues. There are concerns about the welfare of the Ukrainian Oleh Prykhodko, recognised as a political prisoner by Memorial Human Rights Centre, who has complained of torture and ill-treatment in Russian captivity.  The Russian lawyer Nikolai Polozov has now written a book about the trial and conviction of Akhtem Chiygoz, deputy Head of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar people. Crimean Tatar journalist Remzi Bekirov, human rights defender Riza Izetov, and three civic activists Rayim Aivazov, Farkhod Bazarov and Shaban Umerov face sentences from 16.5 to 18 years if convicted in their ongoing trial on charges of terrorism. In a parallel trial, Crimean Tatar journalist and public figure, Nariman Dzhelyal and two cousins, Asan and Aziz Akhtemov, face sentences of up to 20 years.

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