Simon Cosgrove: A look back at the past week in Russia [week-ending 20 January 2023]

22 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 Roskomnadzor, the Russian media regulator, announced plans to implement the latest homophobic legislation by censoring online content, including film streaming, new ‘foreign agent’ legislation will give the authorities yet more intrusive powers in overseeing the activities of ‘foreign agents, Dmitry Ivanov, author of the ‘Protest MGU’ telegram channel on trial for disseminating ‘fake news’ about the Russian army, alleged he was beaten in the court building by an escort guard, a court sent a defendant to a psychiatric clinic for examination on account of comments she posted online and six members of the Citizens of the USSR group, who refuse to recognise the Russian Federation, have been detained on charges of creating an extremist community and inciting hatred.

Amnesty International issued a statement condemning news that the Russian media regulator is considering censoring online content containing references to LGBTI people or rights, including banning movies and TV series featuring LGBTI characters in a move to implement the new homophobic law adopted in December 2022 with regard to publishing content online, including movie streaming services.

The Russian authorities are preparing to further scapegoat and stigmatize LGBTI people in the country through new homophobic legislation, including by perversely banning globally acclaimed movies like Brokeback Mountain and Call Me by Your Name. This unabashed censorship shows that the Russian authorities are wholly out-of-step with human rights, willing to blatantly violate the right to freedom of expression. Disguised as ‘protecting traditional values,’ this outrageous move will not only further stigmatize millions of LGBTI people but expose them to increasing discrimination and stigma, hostility and violent acts. This censorship directive, not to mention the anti-LGBTI law itself, must be immediately repealed. It’s time for Russia to stop promoting and endorsing discrimination against LGBTI people and understand and recognize that their rights are human rights, and protect them.

Natalia Zviagina, Amnesty International’s Russia Director

OVD-Info reported that Dmitry Ivanov, author of the ‘Protest MGU’ [Moscow State University] telegram channel, was beaten up by a guard escort in the basement of the courthouse after a hearing allegedly for refusing to put on handcuffs while the court was in session and his lawyer was talking to the judge: ‘The security guard reportedly took the defendant to the basement, where he struck him repeatedly in the head and ribs with a truncheon, handcuffed him tightly and threatened to rape him.’ 

Many people experience violence at the hands of police officers during court proceedings. Those prosecuted for political reasons or speaking out against the war are often beaten and threatened. […] [E]ven before conviction many face cruelty that is likely to go unpunished, as the state actually only supports it. 


OVD-Info also reported the government has approved new rules on state regulation of ‘foreign agents’ according to which the Justice Ministry will receive the right to conduct scheduled and unscheduled inspections of the activities of ‘foreign agents’ and will have access to any documentation about these activities.

The Russian authorities discriminate more and more against ‘foreign agents’ every year. It started with the reporting of all expenditure and the need to label every publication on social networks, and now those on the register are being deprived of commercial secrecy. All this brings enormous inconvenience to both individuals and ‘foreign agent’ organisations. In this way, the state makes life difficult for anyone who speaks out against it, silencing them.


A court in Primorsky region, OVD-Info reported, has sent Dolita Sinitsina, a pensioner, for psychiatric examination in an extremism case after she made comments on the Odnoklassniki social network with the headlines ‘Get out, feral cat!’ and ‘They don’t show Russian fascism on the state channels.’ An expert claimed that these posts incite violence against the Russian military.

The results of a psychiatric assessment can lead to a defendant being sent for compulsory treatment. The qualifications of the experts who make the decisions are often questionable and the conditions in the hospitals to which defendants are sent are almost torturous. A person may be declared insane in order to deprive them of the opportunity to defend themselves. Punitive psychiatry has thus become yet another way of disposing of those who speak out against the regime.


In the Khanty-Mansi autonomous district, OVD-Info reported, six followers of an organisation called Citizens of the USSR were detained on charges of creating an extremist community and inciting hatred. Three have been placed under house arrest and three have been remanded in custody. According to the investigation, the six wanted to change the system of government in Russia, committed ‘illegal actions and provocations’ and attracted new supporters.

Citizens of the USSR believe that the Soviet Union continues to exist and that the Russian Federation is a trading firm. Some of the members of the movement refuse any ties with Russia as a state, for example they don’t sign any documents, or demand that local authorities resign. In 2022, a court in Samara declared Citizens of the USSR an extremist organisation.


This week highlighted the continuing roll-out of repressive legislation along with aggressive law enforcement practices targetting sexual orientation, freedom of expression and the right of association. Following the adoption of new homophobic legislation in December last year, Roskomnadzor now intends to censor online content. This is blatant discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and a vicious restriction on freedom of expression. And scarcely a week goes by, it seems, without some new form of restriction against the right of association, usually in terms of intensified discrimination against ‘foreign agents,’ either entering the statute book or taking the form of regulations adopted by government authorities: this week they concerned yet further intrusive powers of oversight. In other news, the case of Dmitry Ivanov, which also highlights restrictions on freedom of expression with regard to Russia’s war against Ukraine, also pointed out the endemic use of force and torture – with impunity – by Russian law enforcement agents. Ivanov was beaten up in a courthouse. Exercising the right to freedom of expression also saw a defendant in a case in the Primorye region sent to a psychiatric clinic for examination in a further worrisome sign of the return of the Soviet-era practice of punitive psychiatry. In the Khanty-Mansi autonomous district, meanwhile, it might have been thought, with regard to the Citizens of the USSR group, that there are enough laws to hold to account persons who refuse to pay taxes or complete bureaucratic requirements. Yet in the case of Citizens of the USSR the Russian authorities bring surely disproportionate criminal charges of creating an ‘extremist community’ and ‘inciting hatred.’ Indeed, an impartial observer of Russian government propaganda would surely judge that the it is the regime in Russia itself that is seeking to create one large national ‘extremist community’ consolidated by the glue of hatred against other states and peoples. That, after all, is what the regime incites on a daily basis through its pervasive propaganda. One can only hope that in this endeavour the authorities will ultimately fail.

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