OVD-Info Weekly Bulletin 154: Psychiatric hospital, pressure on medics and Jehovah’s Witnesses

23 May 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.

Photo: David Frenkel

Hi! Jehovah’s Witnesses have been searched en masse, medics have been forced to apologise for complaining about their working conditions, and an opposition activist from the Kamchatka region has been ordered to undergo psychiatric treatment following a piece he published about the police.

Medics who publicly complained about their working conditions have been called in for questioning by the police and the Investigative Committee. Healthcare workers from various different regions filmed a video message in which they reported shortages of personal protective equipment and a lack of pay rises for their work with coronavirus. The security forces have taken an interest in those responsible for the film: a paramedic in the Krasnodar Region was deemed to have organised a public event and received a warning; a healthcare assistant in the Ivanovskaya Region is facing criminal charges under the article on spreading fake news; and hospital staff in Chechnya have apologised for complaining live on air on the state television channel.

  • Why do I need to know this? In one of his April public addresses, president Vladimir Putin ordered all regional leaders to provide medics with all the necessary equipment to fight the coronavirus and to deliver on the promise of pay rises. Regional leaders have put their own spin on the orders: instead of expressing gratitude to healthcare workers, they are using criminal law to threaten and even fire them.

Court refuses to reduce sentence for a convict in the Moscow Case. Daniil Belgets, who was convicted as a result of his participation in the Moscow protests on 27th July 2019, has some time left to serve on his sentence, which has not been replaced with lighter forms of punishment, such as a fine or community service. On the eve of the verdict, a support group for the defendants reported that the administration of the prison where Belgets is held did everything in its power to sabotage the hearing.

  • Why does this matter? Many of the defendants in the Moscow Case have already been transferred to prison. They need support while in correctional facilities just as much as they did during the previous investigation and trial. It is easy to keep silent about unfair treatment in prison. That’s why we urge you to write to Belgets and other political prisoners, to remind them that people on the outside haven’t forgotten them.

Mass searches and multiple cases against Jehovah’s Witnesses. Jehovah’s Witnesses from various regions have reported being subjected to mass searches. In the Primorsky Region an FSB officer who had “developed an interest in the bible” turned up at the home of members of the faith, while in Kabardino-Balkaria, law enforcement officers left behind extremist material. In Novosibirsk, investigators have given a member of the religious movement a week to familiarise himself with the substance of a criminal case against them, consisting of around five thousand pages. 

  • Why do I need to know this? In 2017, the Management Centre of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia, along with other related organisations, were deemed extremist. Since then, there has been a steady flow of criminal cases against believers: at the moment, we know of 152 cases and 335 charges. Jehovah’s Witnesses have reported being watched, wiretapped and tortured.

An opposition activist in the Kamchatka Region has been ordered to undergo psychiatric treatment. The activist, who runs a YouTube channel criticising the acting authorities, was found guilty of libel because of an article he published about the police. The court stated that he has a psychiatric disorder and ordered him to be admitted to a psychiatric hospital.

  • Why does this matter? Anyone who ends up in a psychiatric institution on court orders has no real power to influence the length or trajectory of their treatment. That’s why it’s important to follow what happens to people in these situations: enforced treatment often turns into an instrument of punitive psychiatry.


An activist in Izhevsk is being investigated for justifying terrorism. Attempts have been made to implicate Dmitri Morozov, a member of the Russian socialist movement, in a case on justifying terrorism because of his appearance at a protest against the Network case. He was also investigated in connection with a case on arson at the local branch of the United Russia party. Morozov believes that the prosecution is linked with his plans to stand for election to the Izhevsk City Duma. OVD-Info reports on the activist’s experiences with pressure from the security forces.

Coronavirus inside the penitentiary system. Human rights activists the world over are calling for the release of prisoners to prevent correctional facilities from becoming coronavirus hotspots. The Russian penitentiary service has responded to the pandemic with harsh restrictions: visits are banned, and facilities are not accepting packages or care parcels. OVD-Info speaks to political prisoners about life under these new circumstances in jails and prisons. 

A weekend court hearing following a lone picket. In late April Evgeni Musin, a supporter of the Perpetual Protest, was arrested in St Petersburg while protesting the current authorities. He was visited in the police station by representatives of the General Administration for Combating Extremism, and was only released the following morning. Musin tells OVD-Info how, after his release, he received five consecutive visits at home from unidentified people who handed him a court summons; meanwhile, the judge was called in to his case on a weekend.

Amendments to the Strategy on Combatting Extremisn. OVD-Info’s senior lawyer, Nadezhda Kyzina, and director of the Information-Analytics Centre Sova, Aleksandr Verkhovskii explain the impact of changes to the Strategy on Combatting Extremism on NGOs’ work and freedom of assembly, as well as why government officials have emphasised “traditional values” in the document.

Activists from the Association for National Resistance face prosecution. The left-wing nationalist movement has been part of political life in Russia since 2016. Members of the Association voiced their support for those defending the square in Ekaterinburg, stood in solidarity with prisoners who rebelled in Angarsk, and arranged other protests events. OVD-Info recounts how six members of the Association were searched in their homes in early May by the police, special forces, FSB and the counter extremism centre in connection with a criminal case on the unlawful registration of a legal entity.

We have also updated our donations page and have turned into a mini-presentation on OVD-Info.


Every day we take phone calls on our hotline, publish news and features about political repression in Russia, release guidance, reports and podcasts. Our lawyers handle criminal cases and submit complaints to the ECHR, while our IT-team works day in, day out to make our services more user-friendly. All of this can happen thanks to your support. Please sign up to make a monthly donation to OVD-Info. That way we can continue work and to send you your favourite mailing and more.

Translated by Judith Fagelson

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