OVD-Info Weekly Bulletin No. 150: Konstantin Kotov, Vladikavkas and curbs to freedom of assembly

25 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.

Illustration: Viktoriya Kim for OVD-Info

Hi! Konstantin Kotov is still behind bars, Vladikavkaz now has its own version of the Bolotnya Square case, and the authorities are still prosecuting people for their comments about the virus.

A fine for fundraiser for doctors. Ekaterina Bilbao, who lives in Lipetsk, has been fined under the statute on dissemination of fake news. Bilbao posted a video to her social media, calling for donations to buy equipment and medications to combat the shortage in the regional hospital. She says she decided to film the video in response to a call from the local authorities to help media.

Why does this matter? The generally inoffensive request to voluntarily support doctors has been interpreted by the executive authorities as a public danger and dissemination of untrustworthy information. It seems that the local civil servants are more afraid of public criticism directed against the healthcare system during the epidemic than they are of the epidemic itself.

The head of the Russia Behind Bars foundation has been called in for interrogation Journalist and human rights activist Olga Romanova has been called in by the Investigative Committee in connection with a case about misinformation on the coronavirus. The foundation’s website allegedly posted a news bulletin claiming that 30 prison inmates in the Novgorod Region had contracted coronavirus. Aleksei Fediarov, a lawyer for Russia Behind Bars, maintains that the bulletin talked about an unspecified infection without mentioning coronavirus. Moreover, the bulletin contained a note stating that it had not yet been fact-checked.

Why do I need to know this? If the coronavirus did get inside penitentiary facilities it would doubtless lead to high numbers of infections and victims among inmates and staff alike. Considering the closed nature of the system and the authorities’ reluctance to publish information, it is important to keep a close eye on what’s going on in penitentiary facilities during the epidemic. The authorities are using a new mechanism – the statute on fake news and the pandemic – to prosecute a human rights’ foundation which has already been out of favour with the government.

Case against Konstantin Kotov reviewed by the Moscow City Court. The Moscow City Court spent three days reviewing the case against Konstantin Kotov. The court went against the position of the prosecutor general, who called for his sentence to be reduced to one year, and instead sentenced him to a year and a half in prison. At the same time, journalists were barred from the courtroom, the judge did not allow videolinks with witnesses, and rejected a petition to postpone the hearing in view of the epidemic, which prevented the defence witnesses from getting to the court. 

Why does this matter? Moscow-based activist Konstantin Kotov was convicted on the sum of a range of administrative charges brought against him for nothing more than protesting peacefully. Article 212.1 of the criminal code, which governs repeat offences, must be annulled. 


Protest in Vladikavkaz. On 20th April a spontaneous protest erupted in the capital of North Ossetia, demanding that the government supports people during the pandemic. A gathering of people ended up in clashes with the Russian National Guard. Now, several dozen people have been arrested and charged with administrative offences and, in one case, a criminal offence. OVD-Info tells the story of one of the activists, Arsen Belosov, who took part in the protest.

Transgender epidemiologist denied work because of a criminal case. Michelle (Mikhail) Krivetskaia, a paediatrician from Briansk, has been barred from returning to work after her release from remand. She spent two months behind bars on charges of distributing pornography because of manga images she posted to VKontakte. Michelle has since been released and her case is under review, but the Children’s Commission is refusing to issue her a certificate showing a clear criminal record, without which she cannot work in children’s hospitals. OVD-Info tells Michelle’s story.

We have published guidance on what to do if you are called into court during lockdown. Have a read and stay healthy.

In collaboration with lawyers from Human Rights Centre Memorial we have also published a summary of the report on current problems relating to freedom of assembly in Russia. You can find both the summary and the full report here


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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