12 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 Human Rights House Foundation highlighted the use in Russia of anti-terrorism and anti-extremism legislation as a pretext to attack those involved in human rights work, a Moscow court declared the Russian branch of RFE/RL bankrupt, two Russians were given long sentences for setting fire to army recruitment centres, the family of a defendant in an anti-war prosecution who fled Russia has come under pressure from the authorities, three persons were given long sentences for speaking out against the war, and Vladimir Kara-Murza failed to appear in court at his trial on account of ill-health. Meanwhile, with regard to Russia’s war against Ukraine, a Russian soldier was given a suspended sentence for discrediting the Russian army by telling a media outlet he had killed a Ukrainian civilian, the UN’s Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine said Russia had committed a wide range of violations in Ukraine, many of which amount to war crimes, Human Rights Watch in a report detailed Russia’s violations against Ukrainian children, in particular those in residential institutions, including forcible transfers to Russia, Human Rights House Foundation called for the release of Crimean Tatar human rights defenders Server Mustafayev and Emir-Usein Kuku, and Amnesty International welcomed the move by the ICC to issue arrest warrants against Vladimir Putin, President of the Russian Federation, and Maria Lvova-Belova, Commissioner for Children’s Rights in the Office of the President of the Russian Federation, as a step towards justice for victims of war crimes in Ukraine.
Human Rights House Foundation in a statement at the 52nd session of the UN Human Rights Council on 13 March 2023 highlighted the use of anti-terrorism and anti-extremism legislation as a pretext to attack those involved in human rights work in Russia.
In the Russian Federation, anti-terrorism laws are used to target human rights defenders and journalists, specific ethnic and religious minorities, as well as political opposition groups. Furthermore, anti-terrorism laws can grant sweeping powers to law enforcement and security forces to imprison suspects with virtual impunity.Human Rigihts House Foundation
The Committee to Protect Journalists condemned the decision by a Moscow court to declare the Russian branch of RFE/RL bankrupt, following its alleged inability to pay fines totalling more than 1 billion rubles (US$13.3 million) issued over its refusal to comply with the requirements of the country’s foreign agent law.
The bankruptcy of RFE/RL in Russia demonstrates how the country’s legislation on so-called ‘foreign agents’ has been used to economically strangle a media outlet. Russian authorities should stop obstructing the work of RFE/RL, repeal the draconian foreign agent law, and let the media work freely.Carlos Martinez de la Serna, CPJ’s program director
Two Russians were sentenced to prison for setting fire to military recruitment centres, OVD-Info reported. Kirill Butylin from Moscow region was sent to a strict regime colony for 13 years and Denis Popov, a resident of Yaroslavl region, was sentenced to eight years’ imprisonment.
Russians have started setting fire to military recruitment centres across the country since the start of the full-scale war against Ukraine. In the context of ongoing brutal military hostilities, military censorship and an unprecedented wave of repression, we consider arson of this kind as a protest against Russian aggression.OVD-Info
The security services are putting pressure on the relatives of Olesya Krivtsova, a defendant in an anti-war case under house arrest who left Russia, OVD-Info reported. An investigator wrote to Olesya’s mother and threatened the family with searches, as well as promising ‘problems’ for Olesya’s seven-year-old sister. In addition, the home of Olesya’s husband’s grandmother has already been searched.
Even if a defendant in a politically motivated prosecution has left the country, the security services can still find ways to put pressure on him or her through relatives who have remained in Russia.OVD-Info
OVD-Info reported that in Togliatti, former PARNAS member Andrei Balin was sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment, for six posts on VKontakte about the war in Ukraine while a married couple from Konakovo, Aleksandr Martynov and Liudmila Razumova, were sentenced to terms in penal colonies of six and a half and seven years respectively on charges of vandalism and ‘fake news’ (the charges relating to anti-war social media posts and graffiti).
Since the start of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the authorities have been prosecuting those who speak out against the war or simply talk about what is happening. Under the article of the Russian Criminal Code on ‘fake news’ about the Russian army, people are prosecuted for spreading information about the war that does not come from official Russian sources.OVD-Info
Vladimir Kara-Murza did not appear in court because of ill-health, OVD-Info reported. Kara-Murza, who is losing feeling in his limbs, has been diagnosed with polyneuropathy caused by two poisonings in 2015 and 2017. Held on remand since April 2022, Kara-Murza has been charged with disseminating ‘fake news’ about the Russian army, involvement in the activities of an ‘undesirable organisation’ and high treason.
Many people in pre-trial detention centres face deteriorating health conditions. Poor nutrition, cramped and cold cells, and stress only make illnesses worse, and it is often impossible to get quality medical care.OVD-Info
Russia’s War Against Ukraine
The Russian authorities sentenced Russian soldier Daniil Frolkin, who confessed to killing a Ukrainian civilian and named the Russian commanders who gave corresponding orders, to a suspended sentence for ‘discrediting the Russian army’ after he admitted to journalists that he had shot and killed a civilian in Ukraine, OVD-Info reported.
In many cases, it is those who support the political opposition who receive harsh sentences, while those loyal to the authorities are treated more leniently. The soldier who received a suspended sentence is an example of this. All this suggests that articles of the Russian Criminal Code on ‘fake news’ or discrediting the army are used not only to back up military censorship but also to deal with those who oppose the government.OVD-Info
The UN’s Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine said in a new report that the Russian authorities have committed a wide range of violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law in various regions of Ukraine, many of which amount to war crimes. The war crimes include attacks on civilians and energy-related infrastructure, wilful killings, unlawful confinement, torture, rape and other sexual violence, as well as unlawful transfers and deportations of children.
‘The Commission recommends that all violations and crimes be investigated and those responsible be held accountable, either at the national or the international level. It calls for a comprehensive approach to accountability that includes both criminal responsibility and the victims’ right to truth, reparation, and non-repetition.’Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine
Human Rights Watch in a new 55-page report, “We Must Provide a Family, Not Rebuild Orphanages,” said that the Ukraine war has had ‘traumatic and devastating consequences for children in residential institutions, including forcible transfers to Russia and separation from their families’ and said ‘children sent to Russia should urgently be brought home, and Ukraine should urgently map the whereabouts of all children from institutions and ensure their well-being.’ The organisation pointed out that, according to government figures, Ukraine had more than 105,000 children in residential institutions before Russia’s full-scale invasion in February 2022, the largest number in Europe after Russia. Nearly half were children with disabilities, according to UNICEF. Human Rights Watch points out that Russia’s parliament changed laws in May 2022 to enable authorities to give Russian nationality to Ukrainian children, facilitating their guardianship and adoption by Russian families in Russia. A Russian adoption website lists children from Ukrainian regions, and Russian officials have said that hundreds of Ukrainian children have been adopted. International standards prohibit inter-country adoption during armed conflicts. In a joint statement, Human Rights Watch and 42 other organizations condemned the forcible transfers and adoptions, and called on Russia to grant the United Nations and other impartial agencies access to identify these children, monitor their welfare, and facilitate their return to Ukraine.
Ukrainian children who were housed in Soviet-era institutions now face extreme risks due to Russia’s war on Ukraine. There needs to be a concerted international effort to identify and return children who were deported to Russia, and Ukraine and its allies should ensure that all children who were or remain institutionalized are identified and provided with support to live with their families and in communities. “This brutal war has starkly shown the need to end the perils faced by children who were institutionalized. Returning children who were illegally taken by Russian forces should be an international priority, and Ukraine and its allies can and should ensure that all children in Ukraine enjoy their rights to live in families, not institutions.Bill Van Esveld, associate children’s rights director at Human Rights Watch
Human Rights House Foundation in a statement at the 52nd session of the UN Human Rights Council on 13 March 2023 highlighted the use of Anti-terrorism and anti-extremism legislation as a pretext to attack those involved in human rights work in Russian occupied in Crimea.
We continue to call for the release of Server Mustafayev and Emir-Usein Kuku, Crimean Tatar human rights defenders, who have been imprisoned under such legislation, along with many others, by the occupying Russian authorities in Crimea.Human Rigihts House Foundation
Amnesty International welcomed the move by the ICC to issue arrest warrants against Vladimir Putin, President of the Russian Federation, and Maria Lvova-Belova, Commissioner for Children’s Rights in the Office of the President of the Russian Federation, as a step towards justice for victims of war crimes in Ukraine. The organisation noted that In November 2022 Amnesty International had published a report which documented forcible transfer and deportation of Ukrainian civilians, including children, by Russian forces and their proxies into Russian or deeper into Russian-occupied Ukraine. The organisation found this amounted to war crimes and likely crimes against humanity.
This announcement is an important signal – both for Ukraine and the rest of the world – that those who are allegedly responsible for crimes under international law in Ukraine will face arrest and trial, no matter how powerful they are. President Putin is now officially a wanted man. Following the ICC’s indictment of President Putin and Children’s Commissioner Lvova-Belova for the war crime of forcible transfer of children, the international community must stop at nothing until they are arrested and brought to trial. Should President Putin or Ms Lvova-Belova leave Russia, states must deny them safe haven by arresting them immediately and surrendering them to the ICC. The arrest warrants are an impressive first step, but they are so far limited to the war crime of unlawful deportation of children. This doesn’t reflect the plethora of war crimes and crimes against humanity for which the Russian leadership is potentially responsible. We expect the ICC and other justice actors to issue further arrest warrants as their investigations into crimes under international law committed in Ukraine begin to show results.Agnès Callamard, Secretary General of Amnesty International
This past week showed the efforts of Russia authorities to suppress internal dissent by sentencing persons for various anti-war actions to harsh sentences, comparable to those handed down for serious crimes such as murder or rape. The two Russians – Kirill Butylin and Denis Popov – sentenced to long terms in a penal colony for arson against army recruitment centres caused very little damage, while the three given long sentences for speaking out against the war – Andrei Balin, Aleksandr Martynov and Liudmila Razumova – had done nothing more than peacefully exercise their right to freedom of expression. The Russian authorities also this week showed how, in the case of Olesya Krivtsova, they violate legal norms by putting pressure on a defendant’s family and relatives. The authorities’ treatment of Vladimir Kara-Murza is among the most egregious of any: having failed to kill him with poison twice, in failing health he is now on trial on absurd charges of ‘fake news,’ involvement with an ‘undesirable organisation’ and treason. Meanwhile his health deteriorates in the poor conditions of a Russian remand prison. Compare these cases with the authorities’ treatment of the Russian soldier – Daniil Frolkin – who admitted to journalists he had killed a Ukrainian civilian and named the commanders who gave the corresponding orders. He was merely given a suspended sentence for ‘discrediting’ the Russian army. With respect to Russia’s large-scale invasion of Ukraine and the consequent violations of international and humanitarian law, at last the mechanisms of international justice have slowly begun to move. The UN’s Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine issued a report on Russia’s violations ‘many of which amount to war crimes’ and the International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants against President Vladimir Putin and Maria Lvova-Belova, Russia’s Commissioner for Children’s Rights, with regard to Russia’s deportation of children from Ukraine, a move welcomed, among others, by Amnesty International. Human Rights Watch also published a report on Russia’s violations against Ukrainian children while Human Rights House Foundation called for the release of Crimean Tatar human rights defenders Server Mustafayev and Emir-Usein Kuku. Meanwhile, Russia’s bloody and unlawful war against Ukraine continues.