21 March 2020
OVD-Info is a Moscow-based NGO that monitors politically-motivated arrests in Russia. Every Friday OVD-Info sends out a mailing with the latest news, which is translated here. To receive the mailing in Russian, visit here.
Hi! The riot police are helping to dig up nuclear waste, Putin is ever a “bright star”, and the mayor of Moscow is guarding the throne.
The Moscow mayoralty has forbidden all outdoor mass gatherings. On 16th March, mayor Sergei Sobianin issued a decree limiting freedom of assembly until 10th April, because of the coronavirus. All outdoor rallies are forbidden, and no more than 50 people are permitted in any one room. At the same time, the Supreme Court limited access to court hearings: now only direct participants in trials are permitted in the building.
- Why does this matter? The authorities are using the epidemic as a pretext to forbid activity on the streets, but a referendum is planned on 22nd April in which millions of people will vote on whether to amend the Constitution. In other words, it is perfectly fine to call together large groups of people to change the Constitution, but not to call together a handful of people to protest it.
Opposition to the construction of the Southeast Chord has intensified. On 17th March the security forces tried to evacuate a group of activists, named the GAZelles, who were trying to interfere with the installation of the Southeast Chord trainline on the grounds of a nuclear waste facility in Moscow. The next day, five of the protesters were visited by the police. They were all called to be witnesses in a criminal case on damages to a radioactivity sensor. On 19th March the OMON special riot police broke up a protest against the digging up of the facility and arrested over 60 people.
- Why does this matter? The activists claim that radiation at the site is already exceeding acceptable levels. During the large-scale construction project, radiation could completely destroy the ecosystem of the entire district.
A Moscow Duma deputy has been silenced. Daria Besedina, a member of the Moscow City Duma and of the Yabloko party has had her voice silenced after she mocked the proposed amendments to the Constitution. Besedina had suggested introducing into the Constitution provisions recognising the family as “a holy union between a man, a women and V. V. Putin” and naming Putin as a “bright star”. The politician announced around fifty similar absurd amendments.
- Why does this matter? The official authorities are acting as if it is totally normal to annul presidential terms for Putin and his government right up until 2036. As long as the declared pandemic means that protests are effectively banned, the only way of expressing disagreement is through jokes.
Political prisoner not allowed to have surgery on a broken leg. Sergey Ryzhov, who is serving time on charges of manufacturing explosives, has been trying unsuccessfully to access surgery on his hip since 5th November 2019. Now, Ryzhov is being held in the medical facility in Samara’s Federal Penitentiary Service. Instead of treating him, the authorities are intending to discharge him and send him back to jail.
- Why do I need to know this? Independent doctors are convinced that Ryzhov is in urgent need of surgery, without which he is at risk of complications. Access to medical services within the Federal Penitentiary Service’s system is an eternal problem faced not just by political prisoners, but by prisoners more generally in Russia.
Blood, traumatic brain injury, nausea. Vera Oleinikova, who runs the Telegram channel Flowers for Volodia, wanted to organise a picket line on 14th March in the centre of Moscow, in support of political prisoners and in protest against the amendments to the Constitution. The plan ended up with Vera being arrested, beaten in the police station, and sustaining a traumatic brain injury. OVD-Info has published the activist’s story.
The police standing with the people. In Russia, solidarity between police officers and protesters is still a rarity. But sometimes, law enforcement officers show unexpected humanity and empathy towards ordinary citizens. Aleksandr Litoi has compiled a list of cases like this in Shies, Magas, Moscow and Ulan-Ude – just for you.
Attacking old ladies is perfectly acceptable. On 15th March the police in St Petersburg arrested over twenty lone picketers who were protesting the changes to the Constitution. The arrests were rough and cruel, with people being beaten and insulted. A 78-year-old woman was held in the police station until late at night. OVD-Info has published an account from Aleksandra Golovko who witnessed the events.
The waste site and the railway. OVD-Info recounts the full timeline of the confrontation between the authorities and residents of the Tsaritsyno region around the construction of the Southeast Chord on the site of a nuclear waste facility.
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Translated by Judith Fagelson