25 September 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 introduction of mobilisation in Russia has meant a focus of attention on restrictions on the right of assembly in the country as people protested against mobilisation. Amnesty International drew the link between supporting Ukraine against Russia’s aggression and supporting those peacefully protesting in Russia’s cities, towns and villages. The crackdown that followed the protests was also strongly condemned by the FIDH and the Memorial Human Rights Defence Centre. Suppression of the right of association was highlighted by the charges laid against Liliya Chanysheva, former head of Navalny’s Ufa office, for being a member of an ‘extremist organisation’ and other related charges, and by the fining of Sergei Babinets of the Team Against Torture under the ‘foreign agent’ law. The lack of freedom of religion in Russia was demonstrated by the conviction and jailing of six Jehovah’s Witnesses in Rostov region for doing nothing more than professing their faith. The repressive measures against freedom of expression were exemplified by the case of the human rights lawyer Dmitry Talantov, charged for anti-war posts on Facebook the authorities judged to be ‘false information’ about the Russian army, the announcement by the Russian state media regulator that media would be fined or blocked for spreading ‘false information’ about the mobilization, and the upcoming hearing of an appeal by prosecutors against the acquital of the artist Yulia Tsvetkova. Meanwhile, in Russian occupied Ukraine, three Crimean Tatars, including the prominent activist, journalist and first deputy chairperson of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis, Nariman Dzhelyal, were sentenced to long terms in prison ranging from 13 to 17 years on trumped up charges of alleged sabotage of a gas pipeline. Further more, ‘voting’ began in the unlawful ‘referendums’ organised by occupying Russian forces on Ukrainian territory.
OVD-Info reported Russians have been taking part in anti-mobilisation rallies after Vladimir Putin announced a ‘partial’ mobilisation, and Sergei Shoigu ordered the conscription of 300,000 people (according to Novaya gazeta. Europa up to a million people may be called up to fight). Within two days at least 1,336 people were arrested in 39 cities. Some of those detained were handed draft papers.
Amnesty International condemned the arrest of at least 1,386 peaceful protesters who took part in rallies across Russia following President Vladimir Putin’s call to mobilize additional troops to fight in Ukraine.
As President Vladimir Putin seeks to boost the dwindling supply of troops for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, thousands of Russians across the country have peacefully marched on the streets protesting against mobilization and the war. They are raising their voices even amid the stifling of their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, and as new repressive laws criminalize all forms of anti-war activity. Everyone has the right to freely express their opinions and protest peacefully, including in response to Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. All those detained solely for peacefully protesting against mobilization and the war must be immediately and unconditionally released, and all reprisals against dissenting voices in Russia should end. The international community must step up its efforts to end Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, including by supporting those who are peacefully protesting against the invasion or conscientiously objecting to participate in the conflict.Denis Krivosheev, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia
The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and Memorial Human Rights Defence Centre (HRDC Memorial) in a joint statement strongly condemned the crackdown that followed the nationwide protests against the ‘partial mobilisation’ announced by President Putin. The two organisations urged Russia to liberate all those peaceful protesters who had been detained, drop all charges against them, and allow its citizens to freely exercise their fundamental rights, including freedom of assembly, expression, and the right not to be arbitrarily detained. The two organisations also expressed concern about reports that many detainees have been forced to sign mobilisation summonses and, if they fail to appear at the military enlistment office, may face administrative charges and up to two years of imprisonment under Article 328 of the Russian Criminal Code.
Today, the scale of repression in Russia matches that of the post-Stalinist USSR. Protests against the announced mobilisation and the war in Ukraine are easily stifled by the use of violence and an array of criminal articles to prosecute the slightest dissent. That is why FIDH calls for a stronger international response to address the human rights crisis in Russia, which impacts international peace and security.Ilya Nuzov, Head of the FIDH’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk
Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, in an effort to control and repress society, the authorities have opened more than a hundred criminal cases, drafted tens of thousands of protocols under the “anti-war” and “mass assembly” articles of the Administrative Code. On September 21, Russia entered a new phase of escalation, not only of the war, but also of internal repression. Yesterday’s demonstrations reflect the feelings of a significant part of Russian society that does not approve of the war. They need support.Aleksandr Cherkasov, head of HRDC Memorial
Liliya Chanysheva, former head of Navalny’s Ufa office, has been charged with three criminal offences: membership of an extremist organisation, public incitement to extremism and participation in an NGO infringing on the freedom and rights of citizens. She faces up to 18 years in prison if convicted.
‘Liliya Chanysheva is being prosecuted for running Navalny’s headquarters in Ufa – but she worked there before the organisation was declared extremist.’OVD-Info
Six Jehovah’s Witnesses in Rostov region were sentenced to prison terms ranging from six and half to seven years in a strict regime penal colony for holding meetings and singing songs. OVD-Info also reported.
The European Court of Human Rights considers the ban on the Jehovah’s Witnesses organisation and the ensuing persecution of believers to be unlawful. In the ECtHR’s view, the decision to liquidate the organisation and open criminal proceedings against the Jehovah’s Witnesses is based on an overly broad definition of ‘extremism’ which in Russian law ‘can be applied to entirely peaceful forms of expression’. This is what happens: believers are prosecuted for discussing religion, talking about God and reading the Bible.OVD-Info
Front Line Defenders issued a statement condemning the bringing of aggravated charges against human rights lawyer Dmitry Talantov, president of the Bar Association of the Udmurtia region and had been one of the lawyers acting for Ivan Safronov, for anti-war posts on Facebook. Front Line Defenders condemned the ongoing detention of Talantov and said it believes the human rights lawyer ‘has been solely targeted as a result of his legitimate work as a human rights lawyer’ and again reiterated its ‘concern regarding the law оn spreading so-called “fake information” about the Russian army, as it disproportionately targets human rights defenders in the country.’ Dmitry Talantov has now been charged with three more counts for violating Article 207.3 (part 2.D) of the Russian Criminal Code on the dissemination of information known to be false about the Russian armed forces motivated by political hatred or enmity and with two more counts for violating Article 282 (2.B) of the Russian Criminal Code for inciting hatred or enmity by a person using his official position. Talantov faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted.
The Committee to Protect Journalists condemned the announcement by Russian state media regulator Roskomnadzor that media outlets would be fined up to 5 million roubles or blocked for spreading ‘false information’ about President Putin’s partial mobilization of military reservists. According to Roskomnadzor, media organizations must use ‘information and data obtained exclusively from federal and regional executive bodies when preparing and publishing materials related to mobilization activities in the Russian Federation.’
Access to reliable and transparent information at this critical time is crucial, and the media must be free to inform the public on military call-ups and other issues that directly affect them. Roskomnadzor must stop acting as the Kremlin’s censor and punishing news outlets that do not follow the government narrative about the war in Ukraine.Carlos Martínez de la Serna, CPJ’s Program Director
Front Line Defenders condemned the fining of human rights lawyer Sergei Babinets 100,000 roubles (approximetely EUR 2000) by a court in Nizhny Novgorod for violating the foreign agents law through the currently shut down human rights organization Committee against Torture (CAT). Front Line Defenders reported that, according to the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation, which filed the case, Sergei Babinets ‘violated Article 19.7.5-3 of the Code of Administrative Violations of the Russian Federation for being the former chairperson of the CAT.’ The human rights defender was found guilty for the lack of ‘foreign agent’ label on some of the online publications published by CAT before being shut down.
Front Line Defenders is deeply concerned about the judicial harrasment and prosecution of human rights defender Sergey Babinets and reiterates its concern over the Russian Government’s continued use of foreign agents laws to prevent human rights defenders from exercising their legitimate and peaceful human rights work in the country.Front Line Defenders
Amnesty International called for the prosecutor’s appeal against the acquittal of artist and activist Yulia Tsvetkova to be rejected by the court. The hearing is expected to take place on 27 September 2022.
If the appeal is granted Yulia Tsvetkova will be again at risk of imprisonment simply for exercising her right to freedom of expression.Amnesty International
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine
OVD-Info reported that the defendants in the Crimean gas pipeline sabotage case were sentenced to long prison terms: Crimean Tatar activist Nariman Dzhelyal was given a 17-year sentence and the brothers Asan and Aziz Akhmetov to 15 and 13 years respectively, in a strict regime penal colony. OVD-Info set these convictions in the context of the Russian authorities’ harassment of Crimean Tatars.
After the annexation of Crimea in 2014, Crimean Tatars have been regularly harassed by the Russian authorities – many of them speak out openly against the annexation of the peninsula. They are subjected to criminal proceedings, searches and torture. The gas pipeline sabotage case is part of this persecution.OVD-Info
In a joint statement the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), OMCT and FIDH condemned the ‘unfair’ conviction of Nariman Dzhelyal and the torture of the Akhmetov brothers:
The Observatory expresses its utmost concern over the continued arbitrary detention and unfair conviction of Nariman Dzhelyal. The Observatory firmly condemns the acts of torture committed against Asan Akhtemov and Aziz Akhtemov and the use of confessions made under duress as evidence during the trial. The Observatory recalls that since the occupation of Crimea by the Russian Federation in 2014, Crimean Tatars and those who defend their rights have been targeted by the Russian authorities, including through enforced disappearances, torture and ill-treatment, arbitrary detentions, judicial harassment and arbitrary searches.Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
Amnesty International condemned the start of so-called ‘voting’ in the Russian-occupied areas of Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk and Zaporizhzhia regions of Ukraine on whether to join the Russian Federation. Amnesty called the ‘referenda’ ‘a ruse for Russia to illegally annex occupied Ukrainian territory’ in breach of international law and people’s rights.
These so-called ‘referenda’ are a ruse for Russia to illegally annex occupied Ukrainian territory, which would be another escalation of Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine and further evidence of the Kremlin’s profound disregard for international law and the rights of people in the territories under its occupation. The Fourth Geneva Convention expressly prohibits annexation of occupied territory and other acts by the occupying power to deprive the occupied population of the protection of the Convention. These so-called ‘referenda’ and any annexation by Russia that follows have no validity under international law, and, whatever Russia claims as a result, such actions will not change the legal status under international law of the territories Russia occupies. Russia must respect its obligations as the occupying power under international humanitarian law and cease immediately all unlawful actions. It must also immediately end its aggression against Ukraine. All those responsible for crimes under international law, including war crimes, must face justice.Denis Krivosheev, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia
The Putin regime’s failures in its war against Ukraine have forced it to introduce mobilisation. As Aleksandr Cherkasov, quoted above, has said: ‘On September 21, Russia entered a new phase of escalation, not only of the war, but also of internal repression.’ In Russia, the relationship between the majority of the population and the authorities has now changed. Perhaps the first time, that majority is now feeling a direct, non-economic impact of the war. The regime’s apparatus of repression is in reaction targetting those protesting against mobilisation, not only clamping down on public assemblies but also introducing prosecution for statements that oppose mobilisation. Along with Cherkasov, Amnesty International has rightly called for the international community to step up its efforts to ‘support those who are peacefully protesting against the invasion or conscientiously objecting to participate in the conflict.’ Meanwhile in Russian-occupied Ukraine this week three Crimean Tatars were victims of a heinous politically motivated prosecution and sentenced to appallingly long terms in prison, while beyond Crimea, in violation of international law, Russia began to conduct ‘referenda’ in parts of Ukraine that it continues for the present to unlawfully occupy. And let’s not forget those other violations of human rights that are not directly connected to the war but are still taking place in Russia: the jailings of Jehovah’s Witnesses and the continued attacks on the secular right of association, not least against those associated with the wrongfully imprisoned political activist and prisoner of conscience, Aleksei Navalny.