Simon Cosgrove: A look back at the past week in Russia [week-ending 30 December 2022]

I January 2023

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 President Putin signed into force a series of new laws, including a new law making desecration of the St. George’s Ribbon a criminal offence and another tightening the restrictions on ‘foreign agents.’ Ukrainian journalist and nurse Iryna Danilovych was sentenced to seven years in prison by a court in Crimea on charges of making explosives. Also in Crimea, Ernes Ametov was sentenced to 11 years in a strict regime penal colony for involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir on charges of participation in the activities of a terrorist organisation and preparation for a violent seizure of power. Vladislav Sinitsa, a prisoner serving five years in prison for a tweet allegedly inciting hatred against law enforcment officials, was charged with inciting extremist activity’ for a series of tweets allegedly sent from prison.

OVD-Info reported Vladimir Putin has signed into force a series of new repressive laws. One of the new laws makes desecration of the St. George’s Ribbon – a “symbol of military glory” – a criminal offence punishable by up to five years in prison. Another law toughens liability for “foreign agents”: administrative penalties will increase, and it will be even easier to prosecute those on the registry.

Both laws will increase the number of wrongful criminal prosecutions. The Sova Centre for Information and Analysis does not consider it proportionate to apply the article of the Russian Criminal Code on the rehabilitation of Nazism to people who criticise ‘days of military glory’ and memorial days, as well as symbols of military glory, even if they express their opinions in a very harsh form. […] The risk of criminal liability for those designated “foreign agents” will increase significantly: now it can be imposed if a person or organisation has been prosecuted twice in a year under an administrative article on violation of the procedure for the activities of a “foreign agent”.


Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemned what it called the ‘sham trial’ that ended with Ukrainian journalist Iryna Danilovych being sentenced to seven years in prison by a municipal court in Feodosia, Crimea, on a charge of making explosives. The organisation said that Danilovych, hounded by the Russian security authorities since 2016, must be freed at once. OVD-Info said that Danilovych’s human rights and journalistic activities ‘were probably the real reason for her criminal prosecution.’

This trial on a charge of manufacturing explosives recalls those of Vladyslav Yesypenko and other Crimean journalists, who have been convicted on similar charges. We condemn this sham justice serving the Russian authorities in their political crackdown in the Crimean peninsula since their occupation began in 2014. Iryna Danilovych is one of nine Crimean journalists who are in Russian prisons. We demand their immediate release.

 Jeanne Cavelier, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk

Irina Danilovich worked as a nurse in a Crimean rest home. She defended the interests of medical workers on the peninsula and uncovered violations of their rights. Her human rights and journalistic activities were probably the real reason for the criminal prosecution. The activist and her lawyers claimed that law enforcement officers planted the explosives she was accused of possessing. In addition, the defence pointed to numerous contradictions in the witness statements, inadmissible evidence, lack of substantial evidence and the false testimony of one of the “witnesses”, who turned out to be an officer in the Crimean police.


OVD-Info also reported that Ernes Ametov, a defendant in a Crimean Hizb ut-Tahrir case, was sentenced to 11 years in a strict regime colony. He was found guilty of participation in the activities of a terrorist organisation and preparation for a violent seizure of power. In 2020, the court had acquitted Ametov, but the appeal court cancelled that decision, and the case was sent for reconsideration. The other defendants in the case were sentenced to between 13 and 19 years’ imprisonment.

The conviction of Ernes Ametov can hardly be called well-founded: his case file does not mention possession of weapons or explosives or any real plans to commit terrorist attacks, and the indictment contains only audio recordings of conversations in one of the mosques, in which he and other defendants in the case discuss domestic, political and religious topics.


OVD-Info reported a new criminal case against Vladislav Sinitsa, from Moscow, currently serving five years in a penal colony in Kostroma region ‘for inciting hatred or hostility with the threat of violence over a tweet in which he suggested that certain people could harm the children of law enforcement officers involved in the dispersal of rallies.’ Sinitsa is now accused of incitement to extremist activity, also on account of a series of tweets he allegedly made from prison. Sinitsa denies the charges.

Human rights activists suggest that the new criminal case against Vladislav Sinitsa has been fabricated. […] The fabrication may be logical, as there were also signs of politically motivated prosecution in the first case against Sinitsa.


OVD-Info reported that Article 20.3.3 on discrediting the Russian army, introduced into the Administrative Code in March, is a popular means of dealing with anti-war protesters. However, judges often side with citizens prosecuted under it: more than 500 cases have been dropped or returned to the police.

This year, internal repressions in Russia have reached unprecedented proportions. There have been more than 21,000 arrests and criminal charges have been laid against about 400 persons for anti-war statements and speeches; more than 200,000 Internet resources were blocked; and eleven sentences were handed down for treason.


The new laws signed into force this week by President Putin show there is no let-up to the stream of repressive legislation in Russia. The latest legislative initiatives, highlighted by OVD-Info above, penalise the rejection of the current regime’s militarised ideology (‘protecting’ the St. George’s RIbbon) and impose further restrictions on ‘foreign agents’ – a term that has little substance these days except to designate a person or organisation as one that expresses dissent vis a vis official government policy. The particular criminal prosecutions mentioned above are further illustrations of suppression of freedom of speech (against a journalist and a social media user) and freedom of religion (against someone associated with Hizb ut-Tahrir). However, they also illustrate two other particular aspects of law enforcement in Russia today: that the occupied Ukrainian territory of Crimea is particularly subject to the repressive application of laws that amounts to arbitrariness (the convictions of Danilovych and Ametov); and that, in the current police state that is Russia, law enforcement officers enjoy a special kind of protection under what goes as the law (the new prosecution of Vladislav Sinitsa).

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