Simon Cosgrove: A look back at the past week in Russia [week-ending 19 May 2023]

23 May 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 in Russia, Greenpeace was designated an ‘undesirable organisation’ and closed down; the homes of opposition activists in Moscow and St Petersburg were searched in connection with an investigation launched against politician Ilya Ponomarev; three Muslims from Crimea – Aleksandr Sizikov, Alim Sufyanov and Seyran Khairedinov – were given long sentences for association with Hizb ut-Tahrir; in Perm the former head of Perm Memorial and the chair person of the Centre for Historical Memory – Robert Latypov and Aleksandr Chernyshov – have been charged with attempted smuggling of cultural property; in Kazan the authorities searched the home of journalist Nailya Mullayeva, confiscating her computer and mobile phones in connection with an investigation into ‘discrediting the Russian army’; and Human Rights Watch highlighted the amendments made last December to Russia’s law banning ‘gay propaganda’ that extend its scope to all age groups. Meanwhile, in the context of Russia’s on-going invasion of Ukraine, the Russian authorities laid down a time limit of 1 July 2024 for Ukrainian citizens living in territories occupied by Russia to obtain Russian passports – or to be classified as ‘foreign nationals’; and Amnesty International published a review into its Ukraine Organizational Report published on 4 August 2022 that had drawn criticism for having, in the view of many, drawn an equivalence in some regards between the actions of Russian and Ukrainian military forces on Ukrainian territory. The statement said, among other things, that ‘Amnesty International resolutely condemns Russia’s war and crime of aggression against Ukraine’ and ‘Amnesty’s International Board, the International Secretariat, and the wider Amnesty movement stand as one to strongly express our solidarity with the people of Ukraine.’

Inside Russia

Greenpeace has been designated an ‘undesirable organisation,’ OVD-Info reported. The Prosecutor General’s Office found that the work of the Russian branch of Greenpeace to protect the environment undermines the economic foundations of the Russian state. Officials also stated the organisation funds ‘foreign agents’, holds unauthorised rallies and engages in ‘anti-Russian propaganda,’ including failing to support the war in Ukraine. Greenpeace has announced the closure of its Russian branch.

Greenpeace, an international NGO, has been protecting nature all over the world since the 1970s. The Russian branch worked to preserve nature reserves and natural parks, fought forest fires, solved problems related to the rubbish crisis and many other things. Now there will be no such organisation in the country, and it is not known whether anyone will be able to help preserve Russia’s natural heritage as effectively as they do. Greenpeace’s decision is understandable: participation in the activities of ‘undesirable organisations’ in Russia can lead to administrative and criminal liability.


OVD-Info reported that the homes of opposition activists in Moscow and St Petersburg were searched by police. In Moscow, those whose homes were searched were politician and mathematician Mikhail Lobanov, former Duma candidate Galina Filchenko and former municipal depuy Nodari Khananashvili. In St Petersburg those searched were Ladoga editor-in-chief Aleksandr Kalinin and politician Sergei Gulyaev. The searches are related to an investigation into politician Ilya Ponomarev who is being prosecuted for disseminating ‘fake news’ about the Russian army and justifying terrorism.

 Perhaps Ilya Ponomarev’s case is being used to intimidate those opponents of the regime who remain in Russia in Russia – Mikhail Lobanov, for example, stated that he did not know him. Even if the security forces really just wanted to get evidence from witnesses in the case, it is worth noting that the investigative actions involved irregularities. For example, Lobanov’s lawyer Tatyana Okushko was not allowed to be present at his search and questioning. Police also broke down the door to the scientist’s flat and forced him and his wife to lie face down on the floor. In December 2022, Lobanov had already been searched in connection with the Ponomarev case, at which time he said that the officers had beaten him up. OVD-Info


Three defendants in a Hizb ut-Tahrir prosecution in Crimea have been given long sentences, OVD-Info reported. Aleksandr Sizikov, who is blind, was sentenced to 17 years and Alim Sufyanov and Seyran Khairedinov were sentenced to 12 years in strict regime penal colonies. The men were found guilty of preparing to seize power violently. Sufyanov and Khairedinov were also charged with participating in the activities of a terrorist organisation, while Sizikov was charged with co-ordinating the activities of a terrorist organisation.

We often write about the verdicts in Hizb ut-Tahrir prosecutions in this newsletter – the authorities are mercilessly imposing horrendous sentences on defendants. According to the project ‘Political Prisoners. Memorial,’ at least 253 people have been convicted for involvement with this party, 107 of whom have been sentenced to terms of more than fifteen years in prison. However, its members are often prosecuted simply on the grounds that they hold meetings in private homes, read religious literature and recruit new members. Human rights activists also believe the prosecution of Hizb ut-Tahrir supporters in Crimea is a tool to suppress public solidarity and civic activism among local residents.


A criminal case has been opened against the former head of Perm Memorial and the chair person of the Centre for Historical Memory. OVD-Info reported that Robert Latypov and Aleksandr Chernyshov have been charged with attempted smuggling of cultural property. The FSB claims the human rights activists attempted to ‘smuggle out of Russia and into Germany Memorial documents of cultural and historical value’. On 19 May, several local human rights activists were searched in Perm.

In March, some ‘unidentified employees’ of Memorial were prosecuted for the offence of ‘rehabilitation of Nazism,’ after which the homes of several of its members were searched in Moscow. Between March 11 and 13, investigations were also carried out in Perm – it is not clear which criminal case. It later transpired that Oleg Orlov, co-chair of Memorial Human Rights Centre, had been charged with repeatedly discrediting the Russian army. In the same month, a fire broke out under the windows of Memorial’s Ekaterinburg office, which a member of the organisation’s board, Anatoly Svechnikov, considered to be arson. On 5 May, Aleksandr Chernyshov, the chair of the Centre for Historical Memory in Perm, was detained at Sheremetyevo Airport in connection with the alleged removal of Memorial’s archive; the man was then sentenced to 15 days in jail on a charge of disorderly conduct. This all looks like an attempt to finally get rid of the human rights activists who, even after Memorial’s dissolution in 2021, continue to research repression and help political prisoners.


The Committee to Protect Journalists called on the Russian authorities to immediately return all equipment confiscated from the home of journalist Nailya Mullayeva in Kazan and stop efforts to intimidate and harass members of the press. The organisation reported that on 16 May police searched the apartment of Mullayeva, a freelance reporter and political activist, seizing two mobile phones, a laptop, and two SIM cards, and claimed the journalist was ‘a witness in an investigation into an anti-war comment posted on the Russian social media platform Vkontakte.’

Russian authorities should drop all attempts to intimidate journalist Nailya Mullayeva. Authorities should immediately return all equipment confiscated from her and stop putting legal pressure on the few independent journalists remaining in the country.

Gulnoza Said, Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, Committee to Protect Journalists

Human Rights Watch condemned Russia’s December 2022 decision to extend the scope of its ‘gay propaganda’ law from forbidding the public portrayal of ‘non-traditional sexual relations’ from minors to any age group.

At the heart of these acrimonious conflicts is individual autonomy and the relationship of the self to society. At play are different visions of society and the world, and the place of individual rights within them. On one side is the vision of a social order in which the individual is subordinated to a static notion of ‘culture’ and tradition, brooking no dissent. The competing vision is rights-based and accommodating of diversity. What proponents of ‘traditional values’ are calling for is a world in which individual freedoms—including bodily autonomy and freedoms of expression and association—are curtailed by the state. In this scenario LGBT+ issues are relegated to the domain of moral stigmas, not elevated as human rights. Hence authoritarian regimes seek to restrict reproductive rights, sexuality education, domestic-violence legislation, legal gender recognition, and innovations in family structures and sexual mores. Those who fall outside gender and sexual norms then become symbolic shorthand. When Russian lawmakers doubled down on attacking the rights of LGBT+ individuals, that symbolism was primary. Advancing ‘traditional values’ is central to Russia’s ideological justification for its war in Ukraine and activities beyond. Its systemic attacks on the rights of LGBT+ people have proved the canary in the coalmine, portending a much more dangerous global agenda.

Graeme Reid, director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Rights Program, Human Rights Watch

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

Human Rights Watch reported that Russia has threatened Ukrainians who refuse Russian citizenship under a new decree signed by President Putin on 27 April which sets a deadline for Ukrainian citizens, or those holding “passports” issued by the self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic and Donetsk People’s Republic, to obtain Russian passports by 1 July 2024. If they fail to do so, they will be considered foreign nationals. Human Rights Watch said ‘these new rules leave Ukrainian citizens at real risk of being deported from their own homes in violation of international law.’

The decree is the next step of the fast-track “passportization” process that Russia put in place for residents of occupied territories of Ukraine since February 2022. Those who hesitate to apply for a Russian passport quickly fall under the scrutiny of the occupation authorities. As in Crimea after the Russian occupation in 2014, they can expect to endure threats and face discrimination, including in accessing medical care or social services.

Human Rights Watch

The board of Amnesty International issued a statement on an independent review concerning the release of the Ukraine Organizational Report on 4 August 2022 that had been commissioned following negative responses to that document. The statement, the board said, ‘consolidates the learnings and recommendations drawn from the independent reviews that it commissioned into the 4 August 2022 extended press release on Ukraine’ and set out the ‘key findings and recommendations outlined in the Ukraine Organizational Report focus on improving how we work.’ The statement went on: ‘They elaborate further on the issues acknowledged and raised following the release of the 4 August press release, including through public statements, and various internal exchanges.’

In conclusion, we wish to reaffirm that Amnesty International resolutely condemns Russia’s war and crime of aggression against Ukraine. Amnesty’s International Board, the International Secretariat, and the wider Amnesty movement stand as one to strongly express our solidarity with the people of Ukraine. On behalf of the International Board, I deeply apologise for the distress and anger that the press release of 4th August caused.

Board of Amnesty International

Leave a Reply