5 March 2023
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 legislation was introduced into the State Duma to extend military censorship laws to cover all organizations and individuals assisting in the war, including private military companies (such as the Wagner Group); the FSB opened a new investigation in the discredited Network case; the health of Vladimir Kara-Murza, held on remand on charges of discrediting the Russian army, involvement in an ‘undesirable foreign organisation and treason,’ is deteriorating in solitary confinement; Nikita Tushkanov, on remand on charges of discrediting the Russian army and justifying terrorism, is being subjected to pressure by the prison authorities; and ten human rights organisations condemned the Russian authorities for the arbitrary arrest and forcible disappearance of Idris Arsamikov.
OVD-Info reported that amendments had been adopted in second reading by the State Duma to the law on ‘fake news’ about the Russian military. The bill intruduces administrative and criminal liablity for ‘discrediting participants in the Special Military Operation’ – expanding its range from the Russian army as such. If the bill is adopted, the authorities will be able to punish Russians for statements about ‘volunteer formations, organisations or individuals’ who assist ‘in performing tasks assigned to the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation’. The bill also proposes to increase the maximum penalty under Article 207.3, Part 1, and Article 280.3, Part 2, from three to five years in prison, and under Article 280.3, Part 2, from five to seven. On 2 March, the Duma passed the bill on its second reading. The Committee to Protect Journalists condemned the actions of the State Duma. The organisation pointed out that the amendments ‘ to expand existing penalties for spreading “fake” information about or discrediting participants on Russia’s side of the war in Ukraine On Thursday, the State Duma, the lower house of Russia’s legislature, passed amendments that ‘would expand those laws to include all organizations and individuals who assist in the war, including fighters for private military companies, such as the Wagner Group.’
Military censorship, which was actually introduced in Russia after the start of the war with Ukraine, is only getting tougher. If the amendments are adopted, then the authorities will have new opportunities to prosecute those who speak out about participants in the hostilities. All this will lead to even greater restriction of freedom of speech in the country. In addition, the bill, drafted at the request of Evgeny Prigozhin, founder of the Wagner PMC, is actually the beginning of the legitimisation of private military organisations.OVD-Info
A year after establishing total censorship over reporting on the actions of the Russian army in Ukraine, which effectively gutted most of the country’s independent media, Russian authorities are determined to further tighten the noose on dissenting voices. Russian legislators should drop the newly proposed amendments to the infamous ‘fake’ news laws and let the media report freely about the actions of all Russian fighters in Ukraine.Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator
The FSB opened a new criminal case against the alleged Moscow cell of Network, an alleged terrorist group, OVD-Info reported. FSB, agents searched the homes of several anarchists and are to investigate jailed mathematician Azat Miftakhov for involvement in the cell. According to reports, several defendants convicted in the Network case testified against him. One of them, Igor Shishkin, said that he had incriminated Miftakhov under pressure from FSB officers.
In 2017 […] security forces alleged that local anti-fascists [in Penza and St. Petersburg] had organised a terrorist group called Network, and were planning to overthrow the government. They were later sentenced to prison terms ranging from 3.5 to 18 years. The defendants in the case alleged psychological pressure, beatings and torture. Memorial believes that these methods were used by the FSB to force confessions and incriminate others, although in reality none of the young men intended to cause unrest. It is likely that the same methods will now be used by the law enforcement agencies in Moscow. All this may result in more people ending up behind bars for many years on trumped-up charges.OVD-Info
OVD-Info reported that politician Vladimir Kara-Murza’s health is deteriorating in solitary confinement where he has been placed for ‘lying on his bunk after getting up.’ According to his lawyer, Kara-Murza’s limbs have begun to go numb – initially he began to lose feeling first in his right foot and then in his left. The deterioration in Kara-Murza’s health is a result of conditions in the punishment cell, his lawyer said, as well as the two previous attempts to poison Kara-Murza. Kara-Murza, held on remand since April 2022, faces charges of discrediting the Russian army, involvement in activities of an undesirable foreign organisation and treason.
Many people in pre-trial detention facilities experience a rapid deterioration in their health. Poor nutrition, cold and stuffy cells, and a lack of quality medical care can all contribute to worsening illness. Sometimes this can even lead to death: this is how Dzhemil Gafarov, a 60-year-old defendant in the Hizb ut-Tahrir case, died in February. […] It is not known whether Kara-Murza will receive treatment – doctors often limit themselves to giving detainees only the simplest of medications. As a result, a person whose guilt has not even been proven is condemned to physical suffering.OVD-Info
Nikita Tushkanov, a former history teacher who lives in Komi and is being prosecuted for ‘discrediting’ the Russian army and justifying terrorism (for comments criticizing the annexation of Crimea and a post about the explosion on the Kerch bridge), is coming under pressure in a pre-trial detention facility, OVD-Info reported. Prison officers shredded the contents of a parcel sent to Tushkanov by his relatives.
Russian security forces use a variety of methods to coerce people into cooperation, to force a confession or to incriminate someone they know. Threats, beatings, torture, disciplinary action on spurious grounds and psychological violence are all used. Sometimes the pressure can manifest itself in petty ways – as in the case of Nikita Tushkanov. However, even such situations, particularly if repeated over and over again, can force a person to surrender and do what the security forces want them to do.OVD-Info
Amnesty International and nine other human rights organisations condemned the Russian authorities for the arbitrary arrest and forcible disappearance of Idris Arsamikov, who had been previously detained and tortured in Chechnya for his presumed sexual orientation. Idris Arsamikov’s whereabouts remain unknown, and the groups stressed that his safety and life are at risk. The organisations called for his immediate release.
Arsamikov’s persecution fits a pattern by which Chechen authorities arrest and detain LGBTI people and human rights defenders on politically motivated, fabricated charges. In one case, in January 2022, the Chechen police arbitrarily arrested Zarema Musaeva, mother of the human rights activists Abubakar and Ibraghim Yangulbaevs, and took her from Nizhnii Novgorod where she lived with her family, to Chechnya as a “witness” in a fraud case. There she was arbitrarily charged with using violence against a police officer and fraud and kept in custody. Her trial is ongoing. In 2017, Russian independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta revealed a brutal crackdown on LGBTI people in Chechnya, when dozens of men were abducted, tortured and killed for their real or perceived sexual orientation. No one has yet been held accountable for these crimes. Enforced disappearances under international law are the deprivation of a person’s liberty by state officials or their agents followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty, or to reveal the person’s whereabouts or fate. Families must live with the uncertainty of not knowing whether their loved ones are safe, and they worry over their conditions in captivity.Amnesty International, Centre for Protection of Human Rights Memorial, Civic Assistance Committee, COC Netherlands, Crew Against Torture, Crisis Group North Caucasus SOS, Human Rights Watch, Norwegian Helsinki Committee, The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), World Organisation against Torture (OMCT)
The purpose of the Russian justice system and Russian legislation seems not so much to enforce laws and maintain justice as to provide scope for lawlesslessness and facilitate impunity for law enforcement officers and agencies – transgressors in uniform. The war against Ukraine is proving an ideal environment for the exercise of this lawlessness and impunity. Until now, military censorship has applied only to the Russian armed forces. The bill now passing through the State Duma extends that censorship to what are formally speaking non-state organisations such as the Wagner PMC. Once adopted, this law will considerably increase the scope of restrictions on freedom of expression and make any criticism of this lawless band and its modus operandi illegal. The cases of Vladimir Kara-Murza and Nikita Tushkanov illustrate how detainees are at the mercy of the Russian criminal justice system, which effectively begins punishing suspects before they have been convicted – and uses conditions in remand prisons to put additional pressure on them. Such treatment had also been evident in the politically motivated Network prosecutions dating from 2017. The revival of this political case shows the FSB’s reluctance to give up on old material that it has turned to ‘good use’ in the past. The case of Idris Arsamikov highlighted by ten human rights organisations shows once again the special level of impunity which Kadyrov’s Chechen authorities have been gifted by the guarantor of the Russian Constitution, President Putin, enabling them to enact their lawlessness even in the capital of the Russian Federation. Indeed, this special level of lawlessness in Chechnya has meant that ‘chechenisation’ continues to remain a topic for discussion in the Russian Federation (as it has been since the start of the First Chechen War) given that, despite the severe deterioration in the rule of law and criminal justice system in the rest of the Russian Federation, many would argue that Chechnya continues to main its ‘lead’ in terms of the outright degree of day-by-day lawlessness.