16 April 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 in Russia two rock musicians, Aleksei Nurayev and Roman Nasryev, were jailed for 19 years for attempted arson of a military recruitment office; Aleksei Moskalev, convicted of discrediting the Russian armed forces, was extradited from Belarus; two Crimean Tatars, Eldar Kantimirov and Timur Yalkabov, convicted of involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir, were reported to have spent longer periods in punishment cells that damaged their health; a Russian citizens, Serkhio Kuan, has been deported from Vietnam for discrediting the Russian armed forces; journalist Roman Ivanov from Korolev was remanded in custody on charges of spreading ‘fake news’ about the Russian armed forces; the Russian authorities designated the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum an ‘undesirable foreign organisation’; and the sentencing of prominent Russian opposition politician Vladimir Kara-Murza, for whom prosecutors have called for a 25-year term of imprisonment, was imminent. In relation to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Human Rights Watch issued a new report detailing how Russian forces ‘unlawfully detained and tortured residents of the city of Kherson and its vicinity during their occupation of the area between March and November 2022.’
OVD-Info reported that Aleksei Nurayev and Roman Nasryev, two rock musicians from Bakal, have been sentenced to 19 years’ imprisonment for an attempted arson of a military recruitment office in October 2022 as a protest against the war and mobilisation [‘conspiracy to commit terrorist acts as a group’ and ‘training in terrorist activities’]. No one was hurt in the arson attempt, as a result of which some linoleum on the floor of the building caught fire.
Since the start of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, there have been arson attacks on military recruitment and government offices all around Russia. According to Mediazone, as of 31 March there had been at least 94 such attacks.OVD-Info
Aleksei Moskalev has been extradited from Belarus, OVD-Info reported. Earlier, he had been sentenced to two years’ imprisonment for posts about the war in Ukraine on the Odnoklassniki social media platform. On the eve of his sentencing Moskalev escaped from house arrest, but was detained in Minsk two days later.
It’s possible Moskalev’s punishment will be made harsher. […] There is no point in hoping for leniency as Russian justice does not look kindly on those who speak out against the war. The maximum sentence Moskalev could receive under the article for repeated discrediting of the army is five years in jail. He will now be separated from his daughter, who has been sent back to her mother who has had no contact with the child for seven years.OVD-Info
Eldar Kantimirov and Timur Yalkabov, Crimean Tatars convicted in a Hizb ut-Tahrir case, have been held in punishment cells since February where they are suffering health problems, OVD-Info reported. The Crimean Tatars were placed in punishment cells after a cell search when prison officers confiscated their personal belongings without conducting an inventory and also violently removed their prayer mats.
The maximum length of stay in a punishment cell is 15 days, but political prisoners are often given one punishment after another, on a variety of pretexts. For example, Aleksei Navalny has already been sent there 13 times […].OVD-Info
Russian citizens who speak out against the war are being deported from Vietnam, OVD-Info reported. 52-year-old Serkhio Kuan has been expelled from Vietnam because of an anti-war email he sent to the Russian embassy. Sergei Kuporov also faces extradition after making statements against the war on social media.
In 2022 many Russians left the country because of the risk of mobilisation or the growth of repression against those who disagreed with the actions of the authorities. However, they are not safe everywhere.OVD-Info
A woman has been fined for discrediting the Russian army in a conversation in a café , OVD-Info reported.
A woman from Moscow has been fined 30,000 roubles for discrediting the Russian army because she got involved in an argument in a café with a man who was speaking aggressively about Ukrainians. He recorded part of the conversation on his telephone and then called the police. Read the woman’s report about the incident on our site, Yandex.Zen and Medium.OVD-Info
The Committee to Protect Journalists said Russian authorities should immediately release journalist Roman Ivanov from Korolev, detained on charges of spreading ‘fake news’ about the Russisan armed forces, and stop harassing and prosecuting members of the press for their reporting.
Roman Ivanov and the journalists of Prufy.ru are among the few independent voices remaining in Russia who are reporting truthfully about the situation in the country and the war it is waging against Ukraine. Their work is essential and should not be hindered. Authorities should immediately release Ivanov, drop all charges against him, and let the media work freely and without fear of reprisal.Carlos Martinez de la Serna, CPJ’s program director, in New York.
We believe that certain government officials are using their position to put pressure on the media so that we cannot tell stories about government corruption and attempts to profit at the expense of the state.Prufy.ru
Human Rights Watch reported on the designation by the Russian authorities of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum, ‘a prominent nongovernmental organization promoting cooperation between Russian and European civil society groups and activists,’ as an ‘undesirable’ organisation.
Under Russia’s insidiously expanding legislation on “undesirable” organizations, the authorities can ban any foreign or international group by claiming they undermine Russia’s security, defense, or constitutional order. On its face, the sinister law, adopted in 2015 and toughened through draconian amendments in recent years, seems to specifically target non-Russian entities. However, its real purpose is to isolate and marginalize Russian groups and activists by cutting them off from their international support networks. […] The EU-Russia Civil Society Forum is the 83rd group to be designated. Among the recent additions to the “undesirables” register are Transparency International, a leading global anti-corruption network, and The Andrei Sakharov Foundation, an American organization working to safeguard and promote the legacy of the Nobel-prize winning physicist who became a leader of the human rights and pro-democracy movement in the USSR.Tanya Lokshina, Associate Director, Europe and Central Asia Division, Human Rights Watch
Human Rights Watch reported on the imminent sentencing of prominent Russian opposition politician Vladimir Kara-Murza, with Moscow City Court scheduled to deliver a verdict on 17 April 2023. The organisation called on the Russian authorities to ‘immediately and unconditionally release Kara-Murza, who has been arbitrarily detained for the past year, as well as other peaceful civic and political activists arbitrarily detained in Russia.’ The prosecutor has asked the court to sentence Kara-Murza to 25 years in prison on combined charges of treason, dissemination of “false information” about the conduct of the Russian Armed Forces, and involvement with an “undesirable organization.”
Vladimir Kara-Murza has been detained, prosecuted, and is facing a monstrous prison term for no more than raising his voice and elevating the voices of others in Russia who disagree with the Kremlin, its war in Ukraine, and its escalating repression within Russia. The Kremlin’s persecution of Kara-Murza, which is part of its efforts to demoralize and quash civic activism, should be condemned in the strongest possible terms. […] If convicted on any of these charges, the verdict would be yet another outrageous miscarriage of justice against a peaceful political opponent of the Kremlin’s regime. Those behind this disgraceful farce bear individual responsibility for their role in this flagrant denial of justice, and should face further sanction and punishment for their actions.Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch
[Update: On April 17, 2023, the Moscow City Court convicted Vladimir Kara-Murza on combined charges of treason, dissemination of “false information” about the conduct of the Russian Armed Forces, and involvement with an “undesirable organization”, and sentenced him to 25 years in maximum security prison with an additional fine of 400,000 rubles (approximately USD 5,000), restriction of freedom for 1.5 years, and a ban on journalistic activities for 7 years. “The verdict against Vladimir Kara-Murza is a travesty of justice,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Russian authorities should immediately vacate the verdict and unconditionally free him.”]
ARTICLE 19, Justice for Journalists Foundation (JFJ), OVD-Info and Access Now have submitted a Joint UPR Submission that gauges the constantly worsening situation of freedom of expression in Russia, for the 44th Session of the Working Group.
Our submission in particular examines: persecution of media workers and media outlets; criminalisation of speech and assembly and association; the use of war propaganda and incitement of hatred and violence; the use of internet shutdowns; website blocking; the use of surveillance in violation of Russia’s obligations enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (IC CRP). […] Our key recommendations include: Repealing the laws unduly restricting freedom of expression, as well as the laws on ‘foreign agents’ and ‘undesirable organisations’; Review national legislation and policies to fully guarantee the safety of journalists and media workers, human rights defenders, and activists. This also means refraining from arbitrary arrest, detention, and enforced disappearance of media workers; Ensuring unrestricted access to alternative information and independent media for all people, including information on the war in Ukraine, putting a stop to disseminating the propaganda of war; Refrain from shutting down the internet and blocking social media as well as from pressuring tech companies to moderate content online in contravention of the rights to free expression and access to information.ARTICLE 19
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine
Human Rights Watch reported on unlawful detention and torture of civilians by Russian forces during the eight-month occupation of Kherson. Russian forces unlawfully detained and tortured residents of the city of Kherson and its vicinity during their occupation of the area between March and November 2022. The organisation said that ‘New evidence has emerged that Russian forces unlawfully detained and tortured people in a torture center and in other facilities in Kherson and vicinity during their occupation of the area between March and November 2022. […] Those responsible for these horrific acts should not go unpunished and the victims and their families need to receive redress for their suffering and information about those still missing.’
Russian occupying forces carried out terrifying torture and other abuses against Kherson residents in the torture center on Teploenerhetykiv Street and numerous other detention facilities. Those responsible for these horrific acts should not go unpunished and the victims and their families need to receive redress for their suffering and information about those still missing. […] Five months after Russian forces retreated from Kherson and surrounding areas, we’re still only scratching the surface of their atrocities, and the treatment of all Ukrainian civilians in occupied areas is increasingly alarming. Russian personnel up the chain of command should be on notice that they will be accountable for every crime they commit.Yulia Gorbunova, senior Ukraine researcher at Human Rights Watch
At home, the Putin regime continues to increase repression against its opponents, exacerbating the human rights situation as it does so. Witness this week the 19-year jail terms handed down to Aleksei Nurayev and Roman Nasryev for causing very minor damage in an attempted arson of a military recruitment office, and the ferocity of the crackdown against freedom of expression: the persecution of Aleksei Moskalev and his daughter for discrediting the Russian armed forces, the arrest of journalist Roman Ivanov for spreading ‘fake news’ about the Russian army, and, above all, the imminent sentencing to a possible 25 years of the prominent Russian opposition politician Vladimir Kara-Murza. At the same time the clampdown on the right of association shows no sign of letting up with the continued use of the law against ‘undesirable organisations.’ This week the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum became the 83rd organisation to be so designated. Freedom of religion (and right of association) is also under attack, as seen in the treatment of two Crimean Tatars, Eldar Kantimirov and Timur Yalkabov, convicted of involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir. Meanwhile, the Russian authorities are doing their utmost to bring citizens who have left the country back under their control, as witnessed by the extraditions from Vietnam of persons such as Serkhio Kuan who have critcised the war against Ukraine. It is perhaps paradoxical that Putin, an advocate of what his regime calls a ‘multipolar world’ will not tolerate multipolarity at home. Moreover, he seeks to cut Russia and Russian civil society off from contact with other parts of the external world – as in the designation of the EU-Russisa Civil Society Forum as ‘undesirable.’ Of course, ‘multipolarity’ is merely rhetoric to cover up the bullying ‘unipolar’ dictatorship at home – and military aggression abroad.
Nonetheless, this same fierce domestic repression, not only intended to punish ‘transgressors’ but to intimidate into silence and obeisance those who have not yet transgressed, exposes the regime’s fear of opposition within society. Despite the regime’s evident strength, and the consequences of opposition to it, repression can also be a sign of weakness – and a fear of domestic ‘multipolarity.’
Meanwhile, the regime seeks to extend its own ‘unipolar’ domestic world to neighbouring Ukraine by means of brutal military aggression and a wide range of various atrocities, including, as Human Rights Watch has recently documented in its study of occupied Kherson, torture:
“Those responsible for these horrific acts should not go unpunished and the victims and their families need to receive redress for their suffering and information about those still missing. Russian occupying forces carried out terrifying torture and other abuses against Kherson residents in the torture center on Teploenerhetykiv Street and numerous other detention facilities.”Yulia Gorbunova, senior Ukraine researcher at Human Rights Watch
It may not be possible for the international community to redress wrongs the regime commits within Russia itself, but it can and must act to redress the wrongs committed by the Russian regime in Ukraine.