16 October 2020
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 has seen freedom of assembly and expression under attack in Russia, in particular in Khabarovsk and Moscow. In Khabarovsk the authorities moved to halt the peaceful protests that have been taking place in the city since the arrest and removal of governor Sergei Furgal on 9 July 2020. One peaceful protester, Aleksandr Prikhodko, who was detained with over 20 others on 10 October 2020, is currently under investigation for an alleged offence under the notorious Article 212.1 of the Criminal Code (‘repeated violation of the established order of holding a public assembly’) – the notorious ‘Dadin law’ . Both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have called for the charges against him to be dropped.
In Moscow prosecutors asked universities to provide information about students involved in protests or publications about the difficulties of life in Russia, and to report on any student or faculty activities that may be affiliated in any way with foreign organisations. A further restriction on freedom of expression was contained in draft legislation approved this week by the Russian government that would increase criminal liability for ‘the public circulation of knowingly false information about the activities of the USSR during the Second World War.’ The bill has been proposed by Irina Yarovaya, a name already associated with repressive legislation.
In Kazan, appropriately located between Khabarovsk and Moscow, the authorities seemed in two minds about implementing repressive measures. For the first time since 1989, the authorities initially banned an annual commemoration on the 468th anniversary of those Tatars killed in the taking of Kazan by Russian forces organised each year by the All-Tatar Public Centre on 15 October. However, a city court subsequently ruled that the ban was unlawful and the commemoration could go ahead on 18 October 2020.
Meanwhile, two of four judgments handed down this week by the European Court of Human Rights concerned freedom of assembly: police violence against peaceful protesters on Bolotnaya Square in 2012 (Zakharov and Varzhabetyan v. Russia) and a peaceful picket outside the State Duma in protest against the adoption of the law banning ‘gay propaganda’ in 2013 (Sozayev and Others v. Russia).
The consequences of the poisoning of Aleksei Navalny continue to make themselves felt. This week the EU announced sanctions involving seizure of assets and travel bans against six members of Vladimir Putin’s inner circle: Aleksandr Bortnikov, head of the FSB, Sergei Kiriyenko, first deputy chief of staff in Putin’s administration, Andrei Yarin, another Kremlin official, Aleksei Krivoruchko and Pavel Popov, both deputy ministers of defence, and Sergei Menyaylo, a presidential envoy to the Siberian Federal District.
This week the authorities again demonstrated their reluctance to tolerate freedom of assembly and expression, despite important rulings by the European Court of Human Rights. In Khabarovsk, the authorities ended the apparent ‘anomaly’ that meant peaceful protests were de facto being permitted without official sanction. In Moscow, the authorities took action to intimidate university students in an effort to restrict the potential for protest activity. At the same time, the federal authorities in Moscow have been drafting new legislative restrictions on freedom of expression. In Kazan, by contrast, the republic’s authorities have been evidently in two minds as to whether to enforce greater restrictions on freedom of assembly. Meanwhile, by imposing sanctions on six individuals, all at the highest levels of power in Russia, the EU has seemingly indicated it is in one mind as to where the blame for the poisoning of Aleksei Navalny lies.