OVD-Info Weekly Bulletin No. 232: Damage to FSB property, QR codes and Jehovah’s Witnesses

12 December 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.

Illustration: Vanessa для ОВД-Инфо

Friends! The state still wants to liquidate Memorial International and the Memorial Human Rights Centre. The liquidation of this centre of human rights, a general partner of IHRF-Info, will severely affect our work. On 14 December, the Supreme Court will continue to hear the suit filed by the Prosecutor General’s Office against International Memorial and on 16 December, the Moscow City Court will continue the preliminary hearing in the case against Memorial brought by the Moscow City Prosecutor’s Office. Now to other news.

A TikTok blogger has been sentenced to prison for property damage. Moscow’s Tverskoy District Court sentenced Konstantin Lakeyev, known by the name of Kostya Kievsky, to two years and eight months in prison on charges of property damage and additionally imposed a fine of 337,000 roubles. According to the investigation, Lakeyev threw snowballs at an FSB vehicle and also kicked it during the rally in support of Aleksei Navalny in Moscow on 23 January. He was acquitted of hooliganism charges during the deliberations. Another person involved in these events had earlier been given a five-year suspended sentence on charges of damage to property and violence against a public official.

Why do I need to know this? The prosecution of Lakeyev is part of the larger ‘palace case’ in which more than 150 criminal cases have been brought across Russia following protests in support of Navalny. It was initially reported that the protestors attached a car and blinded the driver in one eye. However, on inspection this information turned out to be fake: the eventual criminal cases are not related to serious injuries.

The Persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The imprisonment and persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia continues, with mass searches in Taganrog, two believers arrested in Irkutsk, a court in Tyumen depriving the community of land and a building, and a court in Karachay-Cherkessia sentencing a Jehovah’s Witness to six years’ probation.

Why is this important? The persecution of people whom the state has deemed extremists or terrorists is becoming increasingly toxic, to the extent that Memorial has listed Jehovah’s Witnesses and members of Hizb ut-Tahrir as political prisoners, and now they want to liquidate Memorial for justifying extremist and terrorist activities. The truth is that, like us, Memorial addresses the actions a person has taken, while the state often relies only on formal decisions by authorised bodies, such as recognising organisations as terrorist or extremist, without sufficient grounds for doing so. For us, facts are more important in this context, while for the state it is more important that the papers are approved by the responsible bodies within a set time frame. Perhaps the holders of these two different worldviews will never be reconciled.

Protests against QR codes Various protests continue across the country against the introduction of QR codes linked to the COVID-19 epidemic. During the week, participants in such rallies were arrested in Novosibirsk, Krasnoyarsk, Arkhangelsk and Blagoveshchensk; in Shakhty (in the Rostov region) law enforcement officers broke up one such rally. In Penza, the leader of the Communist Party faction in the city Duma was detained for a picket against QR codes that he had held in November; in Blagoveshchensk one of the detainees was jailed for 30 days.

Why do I need to know this? People protesting against quarantine measures are commonly referred to somewhat contemptuously and discriminatorily as “antivaxxers”. However, they are now the subject of probably the largest and most widespread protests in the country. 

Ivan Safronov has received some letters after all. Finally, some good news: the former Kommersant journalist accused of treason, Ivan Safronov, has again received letters sent to him Lefortovo pre-detention centre. Earlier, the investigator in his case had forbidden him to correspond. But now more than a hundred letters, which had been piling up since September, have been handed over to him.

Why is this important? Firstly, because correspondence is a very important way for a detainee in a pre-trial detention centre to interact with the world and his loved ones. Especially for detainees in Russia’s most closed pre-trial detention centre, Lefortovo. Secondly, because banning correspondence initially looked like an unfair act of pressure on a defendant who pleaded not guilty. Now we can rejoice a little.

About our female and male colleagues. On 5 December OVD-Info turned 10 years old! It’s hard to believe, but it really is so. In honour of the anniversary, Karina Merkuryeva has prepared a text about what it’s like to work for OVD-Info. Here you can read some very touching stories about our colleagues.

About the human rights centre Memorial: One of the state’s publicly voiced claims against the Memorial Human Rights Centre concerns its keeping a list of political prisoners. Alexander Lita spoke with Sergei Davidis, a member of the Human Rights Centre Board and head of the Programme to Support Political Prisoners, about why they want to close Memorial, whom the organisation recognises as a political prisoner, and why this is important. Read the interview here.

On Sexism in Detention. From 25 November to 10 December, the international campaign 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence took place. In the framework of this campaign, we decided to ask ourselves the question: What problems do women detained at political rallies face and is it possible to find solutions to these problems? The text is here.

On “foreign agents”. Russian authorities argue that the status of a “foreign agent” does not create obstacles for those so labelled. We spoke with experts from various fields about how the status denies people’s rights and hinders human rights activism, politics, and journalism, and these assessments can be found here.

And yet more about “foreign agents”! On 8 December, OVD-Info sent a bill to the State Duma proposing to repeal the “foreign agents” legislation. The following day, the New People’s Party submitted its draft amendments to the law. OVD-Info analysts studied the party’s initiative and gave their assessment.

Translated by Anna Bowles

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