OVD-Info Weekly Bulletin No. 169: The return of Novichok and Russia’s other undisclosed crimes

5 September 2020

OVD-Info is a Moscow-based NGO that monitors politically-motivated arrests in Russia. Each week OVD-Info publishes a bulletin with the latest news, which is translated here. To receive the mailing in Russian, visit here.

Police vehicle and ambulance / Photo: Domodedovod.ru

Hi! Navalny has been poisoned with Novichok, citizens of Bashkortostan have gained a victory over their authorities, and the police are refusing to investigate crimes against oppositionists.

Germany claims that Navalny was poisoned with Novichok. German specialists say that tests run on Aleksey Navalny have revealed traces of a nerve agent from the Novichok group. The politician is currently being treated in a Berlin clinic, Charité, and is in a serious condition as his body gradually recovers from the effects of the poisoning. He was suddenly taken ill on board a flight from Tomsk to Moscow on 20th August, and on 22nd August he was transferred to Germany.

  • Why does this matter? Novichok is most famously associated with the poisoning of former GRU agent Sergei Skripal in England, for which the British police have accused the Russian intelligence services. It is hard to imagine who, other than the security forces, would have had access to Novichok. That suggests that the Russian authorities have attempted to murder their main political opponent of recent years.

The Bashkir authorities have recognised Shihan Kushtau as a regional heritage site. This means that the plans to destroy the mountains for the sake of a salt mining company have been cancelled. Radiy Khabirov, the head of the republic, has posted a document confirming this on his page. It emerged on 3rd September that there were fresh attempts to hack into the Telegram accounts of activists defending the Kushtau mountains. 

  • Why do I need to know this? Plans for industrial production at Shihan, which is a holy site for Bashkirs, sparked mass protests and even clashes with the police. Initially, the police arrested dissidents and issuing them with administrative charges, while the authorities threatened criminal prosecution. However, they later backed down and ceded to the protesters’ demands. This is yet another success story for regional protesters.

Defendant in the Moscow Case beaten outside his front door. Unidentified persons have beaten activist Egor Zhukov outside the front door to his home. This comes a month after another attempted attack against him. The police refused to open criminal proceedings after the first attack. Now, however, they have opened a case on the beatings.

  • Why do I need to know this? Oppositionist activists all over Russia are often subject to attacks of varying degrees of brutality. In these cases, the police is often unable to find the attackers. Moreover, as was the case in the first attack against Zhukov, they often refuse to even open criminal proceedings. This means that the perpetrators can continue their criminal activity with impunity.

The police have refused to launch criminal proceedings following a data breach. Last summer an anonymous Telegram account named Comrade Major, which is believed to have links with the security forces, published the personal details of 3,000 people. Police in the Tverskoi department deemed it “impossible” to identify the time, date, location and means of the “unlawful act committed”. 

  • Why does this matter? The dataset that Comrade Major released included the personal information and phone numbers of people arrested on 27th July 2019, as well as at other protests. This directly contravenes article 137 of the criminal code, which governs offences relating to individuals’ privacy. Nonetheless, the authorities did not want to delve into this – perhaps because the only way the anonymous Telegram channel could have come by this data is if the police provided it. 


How (not) to offer medical assistance in the police. On 27th August Sergei Pakholov, an opponent the demolition of a local square, died in police custody. He had complained of feeling unwell and was attended to by the emergency services, but he was not taken to hospital. Matvei Pukhov decided to investigate the quality of medical assistance available to detainees in police custody.

Case against Chelyabinsk’s National Bolsheviks. Three activists from The Other Russia party in Chelyabinsk are facing criminal prosecution under the article on continuing the activities of the extremist National Bolshevik party. Th Other Russia party maintains that the three were arrested as a result of provocation from the special services. We explain what is known about the case.

Nizhny Novgorod activists under pressure. Iuri Shaposhnikov, an activist from Nizhny Novgorod, is set to receive his second conviction under the article on cooperation with an undesirable organisation, in his case – Open Russia. Just like with his first conviction, the charges are all based on a testimony from local informant, Ilia Savinov. Shaposhnikov claims that he has no connections whatsoever with Open Russia. We publish his story.


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Translated by Judith Fagelson

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