OVD-Info Weekly Bulletin No. 205: Open Russia locked away in jail

5 June 2021

OVD-Info is a Moscow-based NGO that monitors politically-motivated arrests and prosecutions 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.

Illustriation by Darya Ivanova for OVD-Info

Hi! The former director of Open Russia has been jailed, Jehovah’s Witnesses are being locked up again, and Putin has signed an unconstitutional law.

Case against Open Russia’s former director. Andrei Pivovarov was taken from an aeroplane in St Petersburg’s Pulkovo airport because, it later emerged, he is under suspicion of involvement with an undesirable organisation (article 284.1 of the Criminal Code). The politician was transferred to Krasnodar, as it was the local Investigative Committee there which had raised the charges against him, and placed in a remand centre for two months.

  • Why do I need to know this? The prosecution of Open Russia’s activists simply for being connected with the organisation is quite clearly politically motivated, and article 284.1 of the Criminal Code is also clearly political. Now Alexandr Tarnaksky, who helped draft the law on undesirable organisations, is claiming that the law is being abused and should not be applied to political organisations. But that is not stopping the authorities of doing just that.

Jehovah’s Witness given six years in prison. Andrei Stupnikov, a believer from Krasnoyarsk, was found guilty of running an extremist organisation. The evidence against Stupnikov included audio recordings of church services which, according the prosecution, were recognisable as Jehovah’s Witness services. 

  • Why does this matter? Criminal cases against Jehovah’s Witnesses are unjust, and the real prison sentences faced by the community members even more so. Yes, some of the community’s practices might seem strange or unpalatable to outsiders, but that should be the subject of public discussion and not criminal prosecution. In Russia, all the evidence points to the fact that FSB officers stand to gain from the confession’s classification as an extremist organisation, as it allows them to gain “points” for pursuing criminal charges all over the country.

Daria Poliudova given prison sentence. The left-wing activist has been sent to a medium-security prison for six years. Her convictions were based on two incidents: when she reposted a video on social media site Vkontakte featuring two of the Chechen separatist leaders, Aslan Maskhadov and Shamil Basaev, and comments she made about Evgenii Maniurov, who initiated a shooting outside the FSB building. The investigation saw all of this as justifying terrorism, although the court later reclassified the Maniuov incident as incitement of extremist activity.

  • Why do I need to know this? Daria Poliudova’s words – whatever they may have been – could not have caused genuine harm to the public. She is the leader of a tiny movement called Left Dissent (Levoe Soprotivlenie), and none of her supporters read their leader’s comments as a call to action – we can be sure of that, since nobody acted on them. Sending activists to prison for making careless statements relating to terrorism isn’t really part of the fight against terrorism, but rather, another convenient way for the FSB to create more criminal cases with greater ease. We must differentiate between the words of people who are genuinely mounting an armed fight against the government and simple internet commentary.


On offending a judge. Ramazan Suleimanov, a member of The Other Russia movement, is standing trial in Nizhny Novgorod. The investigation maintains that Suleimanov was involved in hanging a banner on the courthouse, reading “Justice Antonov – servant of the d*ckheads”. The activist himself pleads innocent and believes that he is being persecuted as a prominent member of the National Bolshevik party. Karina Merkureva tries to figure out what’s going on.

On the case against Dmitry Gudkov. On the morning of 1st June, searches were conducted at several addresses linked to the politicians Gennady and Dmitry Gudkov. It later emerged that this was part of a criminal case on property damage due to overdue rent. OVD-Info’s lawyers were with the defendants during the searches and interrogations – and here, they talk about the crux of the case.

On working in a cemetery. A resident of a village in the Saratov region, Evgenia Vaneeva, was found guilty of organising a rally that never even happened. Vaneeva posted in the village chat group to express her support of Aleksey Navalny after he returned to Russia on 17th January. Her neighbours didn’t share her views, which helped the court sentence Vaneeva to community service. She did her service at a cemetery, and recorded a monologue for us about the experience.

On voting bans. Putin has signed a law which bans people who have previously been part of extremist organisations from voting. It is believed that the aim of this law is to prevent members and supporters of Aleksey Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation from voting in various elections. OVD-Info believes this new regulation to be unconstitutional and flagrantly unjust. Here we explain why.

On blocking transport communications. Following January’s pro-Navalny protests, at least 23 people were charged of blocking roads. The application of article 267 of the Criminal Code to protesters was made possible by recent amendments to the law, initiated by a United Russia Duma member, Dmitry Viatkin. We analysed how this regulation used to work, as well as international precedents. Click here to read our detailed report.

On university expulsions. In practice, if is fairly common for students to be expelled from their educational institutions for having taken part in protests. According to human rights lawyers, this is unlawful. In our guidance, we explain how these expulsions usually work and what you can do to avoid being expelled yourself.


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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