10 July 2022
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
Key events within Russia this week have included the use of the new law criminalising ‘fake news’ about the Russian armed forces (the cases of Aleksei Gorinov and Dmitry Talantov), other anti-war protests (the cases of Liudmila Annenkova and Natalia Petrova), the extraordinarily long sentences given to members of Hizb ut-Tahrir (the case of Ismet Ibragimov), conditions and treatment of convicted persons in places of detention (the cases of Ilya Shakursky, Viktor Filinkov and Oleksandr Marchenko) and the more-or-less continuous amendments to the ‘foreign agent’ legislation. With regard to Russia’s war against Ukraine, Amnesty International published a new report about Russian air strikes on the coastal town of Serhiivka in southern Ukraine on 1 July 2022 in which at least 21 civilians were killed.
This week OVD-Info reported that municipal councillor Aleksei Gorinov was sentenced by a Moscow court to seven years in a penal colony for disseminating ‘fake news about the Russian army using his official position and motivated by hatred or enmity’ – the first prison sentence handed down for this new offence. Gorinov had criticised the actions of the Russian army at a meeting of the Moscow municipal district council of which he is a member. Amnesty International described Aleksei Gorinov’s sentence as ‘shocking’ and ‘an unlawful reprisal for expressing his views.’ The organisation said: ‘Aleksei Gorinov did not commit any internationally recognized crime by calling the war unleashed by Vladimir Putin on Ukraine what it is, a criminal war. The Russian judiciary has once again sided with a government intent in silencing all forms of dissent.’ Amnesty International called for Gorinov’s immediate and unconditional release.
This week Amnesty International and Front Line Defenders calling for the release of Dmitry Talantov, a human rights lawyer and president of the Bar Association of the Republic of Udmurtia, who has been acting as a defence attorney for Ivan Safronov, a former journalist and advisor at RosCosmos on charge for treason (Safronov’s previous attorney, human rights defender and lawyer, Ivan Pavlov, was forced to flee the country after facing judicial harassment). Last week Talantov was charged under Article 207.3 (2) (d) of the Russian Criminal Code (‘Public dissemination of knowingly false information about use of the Russian Armed Forces abroad and execution by the Russian government bodies of their powers, committed with motives of enmity or hatred’) and remanded in custody on account of a Facebook post in which he criticized Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The Court also refused to provide Dmitry Talantov any medical assistance, despite Talantov reporting chest pains. Amnesty International designated Talantov a prisoner of conscience and said he was being prosecuted ‘solely for exercising his right to freedom of expression.’ Front Line Defenders said Talantov was ‘targeted due to his legitimate work as a human rights defender and lawyer.’ Both human rights organisations called for the repeal of Article 207.3 of the Russian Criminal Code.
OVD-Info reported that two women – Liudmila Annenkova and Natalia Petrova – who took part in an anti-war protest outside the Russian foreign ministry wearing dresses covered in red paint were both jailed for seven days.
OVD-Info also reported that a military court in Rostov-on-Don sentenced Crimean Tatar Ismet Ibragimov to 19 years in a penal colony for organising the activities of Hizb ut-Tahrir, an organsiation banned as terrorist in Russia despite not engaging in or encouraging acts of violence. OVD-Info noted that last week two other Crimean Tatar activists – Ernest Ibragimov and Ali (Oleg) Fedorov – had both been sentenced to 13 years in penal colonies also on charges of participating in Hizb ut-Tahrir.
OVD-Info also highlighted the treatment in detention of two persons convicted in the Network case who continue to face adversity in prison: Ilya Shakursky is currently in a penitentiary service hospital in Mordovia while Viktor Filinkov has successfully challenged his removal from a penal colony to a prison (where he would be held in a cell).
Amnesty International reported on the case of Ukrainian citizen Oleksandr Marchenko who, since November 2020, has been serving a ten-year sentence in Russia for espionage. Marchenko maintains his innocence and that his conviction is based on a ‘confession’ extracted after he was abducted and tortured. The organsiation reports that Marchenko in the past had thyroid cancer and has ‘multiple health issues’ and the Russian authorities’ refusal to provide him with urgentyly needed medial care ‘poses a risk to his life and may amount to torture.’
The EU-Russia Civil Society Forum published on its website an article by human rights defender Natalia Taubina, head of the Public Verdict Foundation, a human rights group based in Moscow. Commenting on the decision by the European Court of Human Rights on the ‘foreign agent law’ (Ecodefense and Others v. Russia), Taubina pointed out that the Court’s ruling argued that the violation of the right to freedom of association and expression is inherent in the very concept of ‘foreign agent’ legislation. Taubina noted that the Court’s decision ‘Most likely […] will not have a positive impact on the current conditions in Russia. It remains to be hoped that it will become a serious deterrent to attempts to pass similar legislation in other member states of the Council of Europe.’ She also expressed regret that ‘the ECtHR in its ruling indicated that it sees no reason to separately consider the issue of violation of Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which establishes a prohibition on discrimination in the enjoyment of the rights and freedoms enshrined in it.’ Taubina noted that the latest bill amending ‘foreign agent’ legislation in Russia significantly expands prohibitions imposed on ‘foreign agents’ who will now be ‘prohibited from holding positions in public authorities, participating in commissions, councils, committees, etc. organised by public authorities, having access to national security information, conducting anti-corruption examinations of normative legal acts, carrying out teaching or educational activities in relation to minors, as well as producing information products for them.’
The EU-Russia Civil Society Forum also reported on a recent study tour it organised in Istanbul. The meeting was focused on the ‘building effective interaction in the face of changes for civil society in Russia and the restrictions associated with COVID-19.’ Ten organisations were represented from Russia, Estonia and the Netherlands
Russia’s war against Ukraine
Amnesty International published the conclusions of its investigation into Russian air strikes on the coastal town of Serhiivka in southern Ukraine on 1 July 2022 in which at least 21 civilians were killed. The organisation said, ‘This attack is yet another example of the Russian military’s utter disregard for civilians in Ukraine as they continue to cause needless death and destruction. All those responsible for such war crimes must face justice for their actions.’ Amnesty International noted that, ‘A core principle of international humanitarian law (the laws of war) is that parties to an armed conflict must at all times distinguish between civilians and civilian objects, and members of the military and military objectives. Military objectives can be targeted, but it is unlawful to target civilians or civilian objects. Prior to any attack, members of the military are required to take steps to ensure that they are reasonably certain they are not targeting civilians and civilian objects. o date, there have been numerous examples of Russian forces routinely launching unlawful attacks in Ukraine which have killed and injured civilians, some of which may have been deliberate attacks on civilians or civilian objects.’
“The Russian military’s relentless bombardment of residential areas full of civilians, killing people as they sleep, shocks the conscience. How many more civilians must die before there is justice and accountability for these crimes? The Russian forces responsible for these ongoing serious violations of international humanitarian law must be held accountable for their actions, and victims and their families must receive full reparations.”– Donatella Rovera, Amnesty International’s Senior Crisis Response Adviser
Article 207.3 of the Russian Criminal Code is no doubt to play a major role in the authorities strategy to repress anti-war sentiment in Russia. The article itself is the outcome of an evolution of legislation restricting freedom of expression in Russia. We have seen a similar evolution in the legislation on ‘foreign agents’ which over the years has come to provide the authorities with the capacity to shut down civil society groups and restrict the freedom of expression of journalists and active citizens. In their latest forms, prompted by the war on Ukraine, we see an almost reductio ad absurdum in terms of law-making. Seven years’ imprisonment as handed down to Aleksei Gorinov for expressing disagreement with government policy is an extraordinary state of affairs. Yet in Crimea members of Hizb ut-Tahrir have been given sentences far longer, as exemplified by the 19-year sentence given to Ismet Ibragimov for membership of what is essentially a peaceful religious organisation. No doubt all right-thinking people will agree with Amnesty International whose report this week on Russian missile strikes against civilians in Ukraine stated that ‘All those responsible for such war crimes must face justice for their actions.’ It is also to be hoped that one day there will be justice for all those who have suffered egregious injustice under the present regime in Russia itself.