14 August 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
This week the authorities have continued to use the criminal law to persecute those exercising the rights to freedom of expression, association and religion. Those facing charges of ‘spreading information known to be false about the Russian army’ (Article 207.3, Part 1, of the Russian Criminal Code) have included Isabella Evloeva, a journalist from Ingushetia, and Marina Ovsyannikova, a former editor on Channel One TV in Moscow; Vladimir Kara-Murza, currently imprisoned for spreading ‘fake news’ about the Russian military, has also now been charged with involvement in an ‘undesirable’ foreign organisation; Kirill Suvorov was jailed for allegedly drawing a parallel between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany; a court refused to unblock the website of the human rights organisation OVD-Info; and six Crimean Tatars were charged with participating in Hizb ut-Tahrir. Amnesty International called on any projected meeting of the UN Security Council should be used to prioritize accountability for Russian war crimes in Ukraine and call for an end to Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.
OVD-Info, one of the best sources of information about human rights violations in Russia, reported that a court refused to unblock its website, despite the fact that the order to block the website had been cancelled.
The judge’s decision was prompted by the fact that we are a human rights organisation and are generally included on the register of “foreign objects” (yes, that’s right, objects). By the way, the day before at the request of the Prosecutor General’s Office, our VKontakte community was blocked. The reason was publications that allegedly contain ‘inaccurate information’ about the war in Ukraine.OVD-Info
OVD-Info also reported that Marina Ovsyannikova, a former editor at Channel One, has been charged with spreading ‘fake news’ after she held a single-person anti-war picket in July. Ovsyannikova, who is under house arrest, came to prominence after she carried a placard reading ‘Stop the war’ on a Channel One live news broadcast.
[…] on her placard she wrote that Putin is a murderer and Russian soldiers are fascists, and called for the war to be halted so that children would not die.OVD-Info
Another news item highlighted by OVD-Info has been the charging of six Crimean Tatar activists and journalists with participating in Hizb ut-Tahrir. The six – activist Enver Krosh, journalist Vilen Temeryanov, Murat Mustafayev, Seityaga Abbozov, Edem Bekirov and Rinat Aliyevy – were detained in the Dzhankoi district of Crimea. OVD-Info said five of those arrested have been remanded in custody, while one, Seityaga Abbozov, is under house arrest.
OVD-Info also reported that Kirill Suvorov, a member of the Krasnoselskaya district council in Moscow, has been jailed for 15 days for the public display of Nazi symbols. He was arrested on this occasion as he left a special detention centre where he had served 15 days’ imprisonment for allegedly drawing an equivalence between the actions of the USSR and Nazi Germany. The grounds for this earlier conviction was a Facebook post (which he subsequently deleted) in which he wrote the last two letters of the abbreviation CPSS [Communist Party of the Soviet Union] in the form of the Nazi’s SS symbol. He has therefore now been jailed twice for what is essentially one action.
Kirill Suvorov is a politician from the Krasnoselsky district of Moscow, where several local deputies have already been prosecuted. Aleksei Gorinov was sentenced to seven years in a prison camp for spreading “fake news”, Ilya Yashin is in pre-trial detention on the same charges, and Elena Kotenoshkina has been remanded in custody in absentia and forced to stay abroad. They are all councillors from the same district, and the “carousel” of administrative arrests in relation to Suvorov is alarming. All the more because elections are due this year, and the authorities continue to put pressure on independent politicians who intend to run. It is possible that the prosecution of councillors in the Krasnoselsky district is being done to set an example to those who want to run as independent candidates.OVD-Info
Finally, OVD-Info reported that musician and photographer Grigory Mumrikov, a defendant in a prosecution for expressing anti-war sentiment, has been released from pre-trial detention and placed under house arrest.
Defendants in politically motivated cases are seldom released from pre-trial detention. Yet the case of Grigory Mumrikov shows what can be achieved with the help of public support and publicity, at least in terms of a relaxation in pre-trial restrictions (restrictions of which there already seem to have been so many during the current repressions).OVD-Info
Front Line Defenders expressed grave concern about the third prosecution of Isabella Evloeva, a human rights defender and editor of Fortanga.org, an independent media outlet in Ingushetia, on charges of dissemination of information known to be false about the Russian armed forces. The Russian authorities have issued a country-wide search warrant for Isabella Evloeva who is currently outside the country. If convicted, Evloeva faces up to three years in prison or, if there are aggravating circumstances, up to 15 years. The Committee to Protect Journalists also highlighted Evloeva’s case, calling on the Russian authorities to immediately drop all charges against her and ‘stop using laws on “fake” information about the Russian military and government to intimidate journalists and censor any reporting on the war in Ukraine.’ The Committee to Protect Journalists also drew attention to the cases of two other journalists charged with spreading ‘fake news’ about the Russian military: Sergei Reznik, an exiled freelance reporter from the southern city of Rostov-on-Don, Rolan Osmanov, a reporter from Simferopol for online news outlet UA South, and Elena Yurchenko, a journalist working in exile for Krym.Realii, the Crimean division of U.S. Congress-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Ukrainian service
Russian authorities have invested ridiculous efforts and resources to prevent any accurate coverage of the war in Ukraine and to remind journalists—wherever they may be—that their work is under close scrutiny. Authorities must immediately drop all charges against Isabella Yevloyeva, and stop prosecuting journalists who report on the war.Carlos Martinez de la Serna, CPJ’s program director, in Madrid.
Human Rights Watch reported on what it called the Russian authorities’ ‘new spurious charge’ of involvement in an ‘undesirable’ foreign organisation against opposition politician Vladimir Kara-Murza which constituted ‘a thinly veiled threat to the Russian public not to engage in dissent.’ The organisation called on the Russian authorities to immediately free Kara-Murza and drop all charges against him. Kara-Murza has been in detention since April, Human Rights Watch noted, on a trumped-up charge of spreading “fake news” about the Russian military for his public criticism of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Human Rights Watch noted that more than 60 organizations have been blacklisted as ‘undesirable’ in Russia and the Russian authorities ‘continue to expand the law to widen the scope of people who can be designated “undesirable” and of what constitutes “involvement.” So far in 2022, Russian courts have sentenced two activists to several years in prison on “undesirable” charges.’
It is now a pattern for the Kremlin to throw its critics behind bars on spurious charges and then continue to add new bogus charges against them to keep them there. The new charge against Kara-Murza is a blatant attempt to instill more fear among Russia’s civil society and deter it from mobilizing against the Kremlin and its war against Ukraine. […] The fake charges against Kara-Murza are purely politically motivated, and he should be immediately and unconditionally released, as should the many other Russians prosecuted on outrageous ‘fake news,’ ‘undesirable,’ and similar charges. The Russian authorities need to stop misusing and manipulating the justice system in their desperate efforts to stomp out dissent and opposition.Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
Russia’s war against Ukraine
Amnesty International in a statement said the upcoming UN Security Council session, called at Russia’s request to focus on ‘growing concerns over the militarization of a nuclear plant in Zaporizhzhia in southern Ukraine’ should not be exclusively about the plant – about which the UN Secretary-General has warned that any damage could result in “catastrophic” consequences in the immediate vicinity and far beyond – but more generally on Russia’s responsibility for ‘egregious Russian violations in the conflict to date. Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s Secretary General, said: ‘The allegations we are receiving directly from Enerhodar, the town adjacent to the nuclear plant, speak volumes about the terrible impact Russia’s militarization of the plant and surrounding areas is having on civilians. Amnesty International is currently investigating these worrying reports and urges the Security Council to do the same.’ In its statement, Amnesty International pointed out that since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the organisation ‘has documented and reported on numerous iolations by Russian forces, including indiscriminate attacks, use of banned cluster munitions, and extrajudicial executions. Many amount to war crimes, which the Security Council must condemn and pave the way for those responsible to be brought to justice.’
The imminent danger posed by the militarization of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant is and should be the key issue for the Security Council. It would appear that this militarization is part of a broader strategy by Russian forces to threaten civilians and put millions of people at great risk. We should also keep our attention on Russia’s abominable conduct, and the fact that during its six months of aggression against Ukraine its forces have endangered and killed many civilians. We should not allow the Russian authorities to avoid accountability. […] The UN Security Council’s unequivocal priority – with regard not just to Zaporizhzhia but across the entire conflict – must be to ensure civilians are protected.Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s Secretary General.
Five and a half months into Russia’s war against Ukraine, there are no indications that the regime of Vladimir Putin has achieved any of the goals it may have set itself. Yet the regime remains determined to pursue its chosen course. Given the lack of Russian military success, no reduction in the level of domestic repression can be expected in the near future. In this context, it takes great personal courage to raise one’s voice against the war from within Russia, and those courageous individuals who do so deserve the greatest respect.