31 December 2022
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.
Hello! Just about everyone in Russia has been blocked, banned, liquidated, or declared a “foreign agent” and arrested! Happy holidays.
Friends, this is the last newsletter of 2021, although it may already be 2022 when you read it. We wish you a merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, but unfortunately we have nothing pleasant to report – the last months have been very disturbing and traumatic for a lot of people in Russia. Including us. Nevertheless, we will not give in and will continue to disseminate news about the bad and the good (sometimes) in the coming year, so you can keep your finger on the pulse of what is going on in this country.
Russia has liquidated Memorial. On 28 December the Supreme Court granted the request of the prosecutor’s office to liquidate International Memorial, and on 29 December the Moscow City Court did the same with their request to close the Memorial Human Rights centre. In their speeches, the prosecutors clearly employed some of the worst examples of Soviet-era rhetoric about enemies of the people, branding Memorial with “distorting historical memory”, “foreign agency”, “destablisation” and “justifying the actions of terrorist and extremist organisations”. The European Court of Human Rights issued an urgent request for the liquidation process to be suspended until the complaints of a number of Russian NGOs regarding the law on “foreign agents” are dealt with.
- Why is this important? We have published two statements explaining in detail why the destruction of Memorial is a very bad thing for everyone. And why this is a political decision. The state isn’t making much effort to hide the political nature of the decision. The blocking of our site should be looked at in this context – Russia will no longer tolerate criticism of the actions of law enforcement agencies, courts and officials, and will persecute the authors of such critiques under the pretext of countering foreign influence, extremism, terrorism or anything else. On 30 December Putin signed a law allowing information that justifies extremism and terrorism to be blocked prior to any trial.
Arrests, abductions and persecution in Chechnya. At the end of December there were mass abductions of the relatives of people who had clashed with the leadership of the Chechen Republic; on 22 December blogger Tumso Abdurakhmanov reported the disappearance of his relatives; on 23 December Minkail Malizaev did so; on 24 December, Khasan Khalitov. On 25 December relatives of Abubakar Yangulbaev, a lawyer working for the Committee Against Torture, were abducted, on 28 December in Pyatigorsk Yangulbaev himself was arrested – fortunately he has already been freed. Some of those arrested in Chechnya itself were later released, but nothing is yet known about the fate of others.
- Why do I need to know this? Extra-judicial prosecutions not only of oppositionists but also their relatives are already common in Chechnya. Not all noted critics of the regime are themselves in Chechnya, but pressure is being put on them via their relatives. This is insane and savage – and nevertheless it is a reality in today’s Russia.
Investigation of supporters of Alexei Navalny. On 28 December in Irkutsk, Tomsk, Biiske (in the Altai Region) and Engels (Staratov oblast), the authorities [I think области is a mistake for власти?] searched the homes of former members of Navalny’s headquarters staff. The searches were connected with criminal cases about an extremist group and actions by the NGO which infringe on the life and health of citizens. Several activists have been brought in as defendants in these cases, restricted by a restraining order in the form of a ban on certain activities. Deputy Andrei Fateev of the Tomsk Duma, who was also employed at Navalny’s headquarters in the past, reported that he had previously left Russia because of the threat of persecution. On 29 December it emerged that the former head of Navalny’s Murmansk headquarters, Violetta Grudina, had been put on the wanted list.
- Why is this important? Navalny’s headquarters and other structures related to politics have been labelled extremist organisations and banned in Russia, which gives law enforcement agencies a convenient opportunity to investigate all oppositionists. However, we have not seen adequate justification, including firm grounds for implicating Navalny and his supporters in specific extremism. Well, unless you consider it extremism to try to get involved in political action at various levels.
Ivan Zhdanov’s father has been sent to a pre-trial detention centre again. In a previous newsletter we explained that the father of the former director of the Anti-Corruption Foundation had been given a suspended sentence, which might be considered fairly good news. However, this time the news is downright bad: soon after his sentencing and release from the detention centre he was again sent to isolation, allegedly for breaking the terms of the deal whereby he agreed not to leave the prison, and to behave appropriately. Remember that the essence of the criminal case is that Zhdanov the elder was involved in a decision to allocate living space which was then overturned by a court. He was found guilty of the abuse of power, forgery and fraud.
- Why do I need to know this? The chairman of the housing commission which carried the decision that was later cancelled has not become a defendant in the criminal case, in spite of the fact that he signed the document. What’s more, Ivan Zhdanov is sure that his father is being persecuted as revenge on himself. He wants his father released for good.
When it comes to features, all we have are our appeals about how everything is bad. But you can check out the list of new “foreign agents” – once again it includes respected, proactive people to whom the state is trying to teach patriotism.
Also, we’ve made a short video with a timeline of the challenging year 2021. You can get nostalgic about all the troubles, starting with the arrest of Navalny immediately on his return to the motherland.
And our multimedia director Ksyusha Sonnaya is producing the podcast Liquidation, about how Russia is saying farewell to its oldest human rights organisations. It’s saying farewell, liquidating them – first International Memorial, then the Memorial Human Rights Centre. The first series is already out, and now the second is being prepared for release – listen here to find out how the history of Russia is being made, so sad though it be.
Translated by Anna Bowles