Memorial Human Rights Centre: Ten opposition figures charged with violating Covid-19 restrictions are political prisoners

8 February 2021

Maria Alekhina, Dmitry Baranovsky, Anastasia Vasilyeva, Nikolai Lyaskin, Oleg Navalny, Liubov Sobol, Oleg Stepanov, Liusya Shtein, Konstantin Yankauskas and Kira Yarmysh stand accused of urging people to participate in peaceful protests on 23 January.

Source: Memorial Human Rights Centre

Memorial Human Rights Centre, in accordance with international guidelines, considers the ten defendants charged with violating Covid-19 restrictions – Maria Alekhina, Dmitry Baranovsky, Anastasia Vasilyeva, Nikolai Lyaskin, Oleg Navalny, Liubov Sobol, Oleg Stepanov, Liusya Shtein, Konstantin Yankauskas and Kira Yarmysh – political prisoners. We believe the criminal case against them is politically motivated and related to their political beliefs and their exercise of the rights to freedom of expression and assembly. Their prosecution is in violation of the right to a fair trial and is intended to force them to cease their opposition activities and to intimidate supporters of the opposition politician Aleksei Navalny. We demand the immediate release of the ten individuals charged with violating Covid-19 restrictions and that those responsible for their unlawful criminal prosecution be brought to justice.

Who is charged in the ‘Covid-19 restrictions case’ and what are the charges?

On 24 January 2021, the day after a nationwide rally in support of opposition activist Aleksei Navalny, who was arrested upon his return to Russia on 17 January, a criminal case was opened on charges of incitement to violate sanitary norms (Article 33, Part 4, in conjunction with Article 236, Part 1, of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation).

On 27 January the homes of relatives and supporters of Navalny were searched in Moscow. On that day lawyers said the investigators were interested in at least 37 opposition activists, politicians and cultural figures who had called for people to take part in the demonstrations on 23 January.

The following week, ten people were charged in the case: Maria Alekhina, a member of Pussy Riot; Anastasia Vasilyeva, head of the Doctors’ Alliance; Nikolai Lyaskin, an expert with the Anti-Corruption Foundation (labelled a ‘foreign agent’ NGO), Oleg Stepanov, head of Navalny’s Moscow headquarters; Kira Yarmysh, Navalny’s press secretary; Navalny’s brother, Oleg Navalny; Liubov Sobol, producer of Navalny Live; and Moscow municipal deputies Dmitry Baranovsky, Liusya Shtein and Konstantin Yankauskas.

All of the listed activists, except Lyaskin and Yankauskas, are under house arrest. Lyaskin is subject to a ban on certain activities, approaching house arrest in severity, while Yankauskas continues to serve a term in jail for an administrative offence.

Nikolai Lyaskin has already been recognised by Memorial as a victim of a politically motivated prosecution without being held in custody. Three other defendants in the case – Maria Alekhina, Oleg Navalny and Konstantin Yankauskas – have been recognised by Memorial Human Rights Centre in the past as political prisoners in other criminal cases. They are now all victims of politically motivated prosecution once again and Oleg Navalny is again being used as a hostage to put pressure on his brother, Aleksei.

Why Memorial considers the defendants political prisoners

  • We believe the restrictive measures introduced to combat the spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus infection are not sufficient grounds for an outright ban on public events (including single-person pickets) and grossly violate the right to freedom of assembly enshrined in Article 31 of the Russian Constitution. The discriminatory nature of these restrictions on rallies and marches, and hence the related prosecutions, is most evident in light of the lifting of almost all restrictions on cultural and entertainment events in Moscow.
  • The defendants in the case did not know, and could not have known, that people who are self-isolating could respond to their appeals on social media. The actions of the defendants in the case do not constitute an offence, as they should not be held responsible for irresponsible behaviour by others. Moreover, there is no unequivocal evidence that public events, held with the observance of necessary precautions outdoors, can have a more serious impact on the incidence of coronavirus infection than attending cultural and entertainment events, or travelling on public transport.
  • The prosecution of protesters for violating health and epidemiological restrictions is particularly cynical when we see thousands of detained peaceful protesters transported in overcrowded police vans and held in police stations and special detention centres in conditions that are far more conducive to the further spread of the disease.

A detailed description of the case and the position of Memorial Human Rights Centre is set out on our website.

Recognition of an individual as a political prisoner or as a victim of politically motivated prosecution does not imply Memorial Human Rights Centre agrees with, or approves of, their views, statements, or actions.

You can support all political prisoners by donating to the Fund to Support Political Prisoners of the Union of Solidarity with Political Prisoners via PayPal, using the e-wallet at

Translated by Simon Cosgrove

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