OVD-Info Weekly Bulletin No. 148: Coronavirus, more coronavirus and Chechnya

11 April 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.

Airsoft players / Photo: Specna Arms, Unsplash

Hi! The courts have allowed hearings to go ahead during the epidemic; people who have been spoken carelessly about the virus are facing prosecution; and people who have been beaten by police in Chechnya are apologising.

The Supreme Court and the epidemic. The Supreme Court has lifted a ban on case hearings that was put in place because of the pandemic. On 18th March, the court passed a resolution to only hear cases that “cannot be postponed” and, ideally, only to hear these through video link. The rules have now been downgraded to recommendations. 

  • Why does this matter? On the one hand, these special rules governing court hearings curbed the rights of all parties involved in the trial – particularly those of the defence. On the other hand, this was an attempt to stop the coronavirus from spreading into places of imprisonment as well as among lawyers, police officers and court staff. The Federal Penitentiary Service cannot ensure safe distances between defendants as it transports them to remand centres, and there is a severe shortage of personal protective equipment. Participation in hearings poses a high infection risk, as well as a risk that the virus will be brought into jails where medication is in short supply.

Coronavirus and fake news. The law enforcement agencies have started actively using an article in the Criminal Code about the dissemination of fake news in connection with the epidemic. The authorities have been proactive in pressing criminal charges, including one case regarding a satirical sketch on conspiracy theories. Until now, the fines issued for ironic comments on social media had all been under the Administrative Code.

  • Why does this matter? The Russian authorities are fond of prosecuting people for various forms of expression, often pressing criminal charges and putting people behind bars. It’s a shame that they now have yet another pretext for doing so.

Chechnya and changes. In the Republic of Chechnya, people are once again publicly apologising to the authorities. One man who did not comply with requirements to self-isolate was beaten by security forces and made to apologise on state television, as were his family, the camera operator who filmed a report on his beating, and the person who disseminated the resulting film. Teenagers are being made to apologise simply for making critical comments about the authorities on social-media platform Telegram.

  • Why do I need to know this? In practice, Chechnya operates its own law-enforcement regime, which has little in common with practices in other Russian regions. The Chechen security agencies take liberties that others – such as the Moscow police – do not. Or, at least, the law enforcement agencies in other parts of Russia try to hide their actions, while in Chechnya they show them off as a deterrent for would-be offenders. That said, there was a similar incident in Adygea this week.


Self-isolation as seen by political prisoners. Measures to combat the spread of the coronavirus are getting more stringent, as the authorities call on people to stay at home and self-isolate. It’s as if the whole population is under (almost) voluntary house arrest. OVD-Info spoke to defendants in politically-motivated cases who have spent time under house arrest to find out whether are similarities between their experiences and the current lockdown.

Airsoft and terrorism: again. Three men have been arrested on the island of Sakhalin while playing a game of airsoft. They were charged with participating in a terrorist organisation – the same charges that were pressed in the Network case. Aleksandr Litoi explains what we know about the case so far.

We have also published guidance on what to do if police officers visit your home. The main thing is not to be afraid and to read our guidance carefully.


Each day we publish news reports and provide assistance to people who have been arrested. We very much need your assistance. After all, we depend for all our work on your support. Please sign up to make a monthly donation to OVD-Info. That way we can continue to send you your favourite mailing, our Weekly Bulletin. 

Translated by Judith Fagelson

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